Germany prepares to slash troops in army overhaul

26th October 2010, Comments 0 comments

Germany's defence minister called Tuesday for a radical revamp of the armed forces which would see troop numbers slashed by around 70,000 while freeing up more soldiers for deployment abroad.

Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, the country's most popular politician, said Germany needed to fundamentally overhaul its 250,000-strong military to face 21st century threats while complying with a major government austerity drive.

"Cosmetic measures will not be enough," he said after receiving the report of an independent commission urging steep cuts in troops levels and other streamlining measures -- moves largely backed by the military's top brass.

"We need to attack the problems at their roots."

The report, prepared by Federal Labour Agency chief Frank-Juergen Weise, said the military was marred by inefficiency and could benefit from reorganisation to better serve in countries such as Afghanistan, where it is the third biggest foreign troop provider.

"Currently 250,000 soldiers are required to deploy 7,000," the report said.

"In other words, behind each soldier on the ground, there are 35 comrades and 15 civilian staff members behind him."

Zu Guttenberg has been preparing major reforms to the military for several months, driven in part by Chancellor Angela Merkel's plans to cut 80 billion euros (111 billion dollars) in public spending by 2014.

The minister, who said he approved of the report, had earlier spoken of cutting the size of the military to 165,000 troops.

In the most controversial plank of the programme, zu Guttenberg has pledged to suspend military conscription -- a policy introduced after World War II aimed to ensure that the military never again became an elitist force with its own political power.

He has said he aims to axe civil servant jobs at the defence ministry, to around 1,600 from around 3,300 today.

The government is to formally approve the suspension of conscription in December while the remainder of the reforms are expected to be passed by the end of January.

© 2010 AFP

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