US Army plan would cut soldiers in Europe by half

Some 35,000 troops would remain, if Defense Secretary Gates approves the recommendation.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Under a broad plan to reconfigure US military forces in Europe, as few as three Army combat brigades, or about 35,000 soldiers, would remain there – a major downsizing from the roughly 62,000 US soldiers stationed there as recently as 2005.

That, at least, will be the recommendation of an internal study conducted for the head of US European Command and NATO forces in Europe, Gen. Bantz John Craddock, who had asked for a "troop-to-task" assessment of forces in the European theater. The assessment is expected to recommend that a fourth brigade based in the United States be deployed to Europe on a "rotational" basis, for exercises and other operations.

The reduction in the Army's presence in Europe is part of a broader reduction in forces that include Navy, Air Force, and Marine personnel.

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The assessment has not even been made public yet, but critics already are charging that the recommended plan would leave the US shorthanded overseas. They want to see at least four combat brigades, or around 44,000 soldiers, left in Europe.

Minimizing US troop levels in Europe sends the wrong message to other countries in Europe, and leaves those forces that remain there undermanned to do the jobs they're required to do, says one critic, who wished to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the negotiations.

In part, it's a question of dispersing US forces around the world where they can engage with other countries, not keeping them isolated inside the US, the official says. "The world we live in is a world of coalitions."

There are other concerns about bringing US forces back to the US. As the Army and Marine Corps grow by thousands of personnel over the next several years, there may not be the room to bring existing forces back from Europe.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates will review the study presented by General Craddock in coming weeks, but it is unclear when a decision might be made as to how many forces are brought home from Europe. US European Command officials declined to comment on the Craddock plan.

The study's findings appear to be a compromise between a plan first unveiled in 2005 under then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who favored lighter, smaller forces, and critics of Rumsfeld's plan, who believe the US can't abandon its decades-old presence in Europe.

The focus of the troop realignment is on the number of soldiers who would remain in Europe, as the Army is the service which has the lead in Europe's ground mission. The Army has roughly half the US military personnel stationed in Europe.

The original plan to draw down forces from Europe included decreasing the Army's presence from 2005 levels of 62,000 to about 28,000.

Under Craddock's three-brigade plan, the 35,000 troops left in Europe would handle the missions required there, including deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. The fourth brigade could be called from the US to handle exercises and other engagements in places like Romania and Bulgaria, part of what Mr. Rumsfeld dubbed the "new Europe."

The US should maintain a strong presence in Europe, says Tomas Klvana, a special envoy for the Czech Republic on missile defense, who supports the US efforts to build radar systems on his country's soil.

"In general, I think the US should stay involved in Europe," says Dr. Klvana, although he was not commenting on the specific recommendations Craddock is making. "I think the transatlantic alliance is an important glue that helps to protect our common values that are important, especially if we face some future threats from the unstable regions, especially the Middle East and possibly North Africa."

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