Issue Date: October 11, 2004
Pentagon outlines plan to bring home troops
Missions, locations clarified for those who remain
By Vince Crawley
Times staff writer
The Pentagon gave Congress a classified list outlining plans for bringing up to 70,000 troops home-based overseas back to U.S. soil in the next several years.
Also, officials disclosed new details on missions and deployment locations for tens of thousands of service members who would remain overseas.
In a Sept. 23 hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, U.S. military leaders told Congress they are making their first tentative moves toward a new philosophy of overseas missions and that their “near-term” efforts in Europe are focused on Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey and the Caucasus region.
In the Pacific, plans call for transferring some American troops from Japan and South Korea to U.S. states and territories, including Guam.
At the hearing, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told lawmakers the Pentagon forwarded a report on its overseas basing plan, which includes a “classified attachment” with a country-by-country breakdown of how Rumsfeld would like to reposition American troops. He stressed the report lists “first choice” options, not final decisions.
Rumsfeld said 70,000 troops, along with 100,000 family members and civilians, are “broadly … the right number that would be moving from an overseas post to a possession or a state of the United States.”
Security is a chief reason for shifting a midsized city’s worth of Americans back to U.S. soil, he said. The advantage “from a force protection standpoint,” Rumsfeld said, would be “enormous.”
Lawmakers did not disclose details on the classified list, but the majority of troop movements already have been publicly discussed. About 40,000 troops would come from Europe and 12,500 would come from South Korea.
Defense officials have not specified the remaining 17,000 to 18,000 troops that would be pulled back to the United States, but some are likely to come from Japan and Okinawa.
Navy Adm. Thomas Fargo, chief of U.S. Pacific Command, said he will maintain massive combat power throughout the region despite the partial withdrawal from South Korea and further potential cuts in Japan.
Fargo said he is creating joint combat forces in several strategic locations in his command.
“We’re co-locating Stryker brigades with high-speed vessels and C-17 airlift in Hawaii and Alaska,” he said. “We’re deploying rotational bomber elements to Guam. We’re stationing, once again, submarines in Guam. And we’ve proposed home-porting an additional carrier strike group forward in the Pacific.”
Meanwhile, Fargo said, U.S. officials work closely with Japan to “reduce the overall number of U.S. troops there, remove longstanding noise and encroachment concerns and adjust force posture in Okinawa.”
U.S. forces on Okinawa make up more than half of the 40,000 Americans based in Japan. For years, Okinawans have sought to reduce the U.S. military presence on their crowded island.
The bulk of the planned troop cuts in Europe, meanwhile, would come from the Army, which would remove a third of its force — about 38,000 of the 62,000 in Europe, mainly in Germany.
The remaining 24,000 soldiers would form the Army’s share of the Southern European Task Force in Italy, as well as a Stryker Brigade Combat Team in the Hohenfels/ Grafenwoehr area of southern Germany, near the Czech border. Army officials say a third brigade combat team would rotate “into and out of a forward operating base” in Europe as an Eastern European Task Force.
A news release by the Army in Europe did not discuss the location of that base, but the Stars and Stripes newspaper quoted Gen. B.B. Bell, the Army in Europe commander, as saying he envisions a rotational brigade force deploying on six-month stints to the Black Sea region.
The western Black Sea includes the Romanian port of Constantza, which hosted about 1,000 U.S. troops plus aircraft during last year’s initial invasion of Iraq.
Romania also provides a “springboard for air, land, and maritime traffic toward Central Asia, as well as airport and port facilities,” a Romanian diplomatic statement said, describing the country’s contributions to NATO.
Marine Corps Gen. James Jones, chief of U.S. European Command and NATO’s military commander, told the Senate committee he’s starting a major strategic push eastward, particularly to regions that blend culturally and politically into the Middle East and Central Asia.
“We will seek new access to facilities and routine freedom of transit through nations to the east into the Black Sea, the Caucasus, the Levant and Africa,” he said.
In the “near term,” Jones said, “attention will focus on Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey, supporting similar near- and midterm efforts in the Caucasus states.”