US to redeploy 100,000 troops and shut bases

Posted in United States | 15-Aug-04 | Author: Peter Beaumont| Source: Guardian

US soldiers prepare to leave South Korea.
President George Bush will announce tomorrow that the US military will pull up to 100,000 troops out of Europe and Asia in the biggest redeployment since the end of the Cold War.

The plan will see a number of US bases in Germany closed down, and troops returned home or redeployed to Eastern Europe.

The redeployment - first reported by The Observer in February last year in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq - will be presented by Bush as a logical response to the war on terrorism when he addresses the 2.6 million-member Veterans of Foreign Wars at its annual convention in Cincinnati.

In February last year, however, when the proposal was first mooted, Pentagon officials presented the closure of the bases in Germany as punishment for Germany's refusal to back the war in Iraq.

Pentagon officials, who confirmed the planned announcement in yesterday's Washington Post, said the change is necessary to adapt the nation's military to the demands of the global war on terrorism and to take advantage of new technology.

But the planned restructuring also comes amid overstretch in a US army struggling to juggle commitments in Iraq, Afghanistan and other theatres, and has been responsible for declining morale particularly in combat units.

According to the Post, two-thirds of the reduction will come from Europe, most of them Army soldiers in Germany, and most will be reassigned to bases in the US.

Officials said exact details of the moves have not been finalised, but some of the troops from Germany and South Korea will be moved to Nato expansion countries in Eastern Europe.

While Bush will emphasise the changing nature of the threat, it is clear that morale within the US military in an election year is a crucial issue as the death toll in Iraq rises. Discontent has been growing among relatives of servicemen and women, some who have barely been home between the war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq.

Any planned redeployment is likely to follow lengthy negotiations with the countries where the troops are stationed. At present, more than 60 per cent of the US Army - some 320,000 troops - are deployed overseas and former senior military officers claim the army is cracking under the strain.

The rapid turnaround in deployments in units has resulted in a growing retention crisis. Already US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld has allowed the Army to add 30,000 troops temporarily to its total to help meet the overstretch crisis, while the Pentagon has also used emergency powers to force some soldiers whose enlistments are up to stay.