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US troop cuts in Germany ‘speculation’

26 March 2004

WASHINGTON – The United States military has not reached a final decision on how to reduce its presence in Germany and a report that troop strength there will be cut in half is speculation, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said.

“The things people are printing and opining on television and on the radio are speculation,” Rumsfeld said.

Rumsfeld was responding to a report in the Washington Post that said the US military will cut its troop presence in Germany to half of the 71,000 soldiers stationed in the country.

“They can’t know,” Rumsfeld said. “I won’t know until we start this process again and work with each of these countries.”

The Pentagon is reviewing proposals for dramatically restructuring its worldwide troop presence – focusing mainly on US forces in Germany, South Korea and Japan – to make the military more capable of quickly responding to post-Cold War threats.

The Pentagon has been tight-lipped about the plan, but some officials have acknowledged that many of the US forces in Germany will likely be moved to smaller bases in Eastern European countries.

“We have to be arranged flexibly so we can move whereever we need to go,” he said.

According the newspaper, the Pentagon is looking lower for a combined presence in Japan and South Korea of 85,000 troops, a reduction of about 15,000. Seoul has been alarmed at the prospects of paring back the 37,000 US troops stationed on the peninsula to counter an attack by North Korea.

Rumsfeld said that technology and improved capabilities will compensate for the reduction, and the Pentagon will not diminish the defence of allies.

In Berlin, the German government responded with cautious restraint to the Washington Post report. The news came as no surprise but confirmed the worst fears of local communities in southern Germany whose economies are heavily geared toward the US military presence.

Seeking not to increase those fears, a Defence Ministry spokesman issued a brief statement saying that Berlin was working closely with Washington on the military realignment of US forces in Europe.

German Defence Minister Peter Struck was said to have been briefed in February by US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on the plans, the general outlines of which have been the topic of much discussion in Germany for the last year.

It had long been known that the Pentagon intended to reassign a large portion of its military forces in Germany to bases in Eastern Europe.

A year ago, the head of US forces in Europe told a German newspaper that “major changes” were in store, including troop withdrawals and base closures.

US Marine Corps General James L. Jones, who is also the US NATO commander in Europe, said that all US bases in Germany were under review, with the exception of the giant Ramstein Air Base because of its strategic importance.

His remarks came in the wake of a German press report earlier last year claiming that the United States would close a number of its giant military bases in central and southern Germany, leaving only Ramstein and Frankfurt air bases and one tank brigade largely intact.

Under the plan, which is nearing approval, smaller, relatively spartan bases would be established in Romania and possibly Bulgaria, and designed for the rapid projection of US military power against terrorists, hostile states and other potential adversaries.

Farther east, in Central Asia, bases in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan that were established in 2001 to support the war in Afghanistan would be preserved as training sites and staging areas that US forces could use in emergencies.



Subject: German news