U.S. Commander Reviews Planned U.S. Troop Cuts in Europe
USINFO Staff Writer
Washington - The United States plans to send its first rotational Army brigade to Bulgaria and Romania in the summer of 2007, and the senior U.S. and NATO commander in Europe told Congress he is reviewing a previous decision to withdraw more than 40,000 American troops from Europe over the next several years.
Also, a leading congressman said success in Afghanistan might be essential to the long-term effectiveness of the NATO alliance.
“If NATO is not successful, it can be seen as an impotent organization, and the fallout from that could be devastating,” House Armed Services Chairman Ike Skelton told NATO Supreme Allied Commander General Bantz Craddock, who is also chief of the U.S. European Command (EUCOM).
“We can’t let that happen,” Skelton said.
EUROPE-BASED FORCES HEAVILY DEPLOYED
The number of troops in EUCOM are scheduled to decrease from 112,000 to fewer than 70,000, primarily by transferring Army brigades from Germany to posts within the United States. Craddock told the House Armed Services Committee March 15, however, that his Europe-based forces are involved heavily in global missions, including deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as supporting the creation of the new Africa Command. (See related article.)
In addition to its wartime troop commitments, the European Command is establishing a new Joint Task Force-East at shared bases in Bulgaria and Romania, to be staffed by approximately 2,000 to 3,000 U.S. troops. These troops temporarily would rotate to the bases for several months at a time, leaving their families at their home bases. A squadron from the Germany-based 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment is scheduled to conduct the first “proof of principle” rotation to Eastern Europe “in the summer of 2007,” Craddock testified.
In late 2005 and early 2006, the United States signed agreements with Romania and Bulgaria allowing U.S. troops to train on local military bases. The United States intends to maintain constant rotation of troops in the two countries, Craddock said. But the current pace of U.S. worldwide deployments means those bases might not always be staffed. The Joint Task Force-East is intended to maintain a U.S. military presence near the Black Sea and Caucasus to help promote stability in a strategic region.
CRADDOCK REVIEWING TROOP STRENGTHS
The many missions to Iraq, Afghanistan, Eastern Europe and sub-Saharan Africa “compel us to review the previous assumptions … to determine if our planned posture fully supports the tasks and missions we have been given,” Craddock testified.
The United States plans to rotate some U.S.-based personnel for short-term assignments at posts in Eastern Europe and elsewhere. But Craddock said these short-term assignments might be “sub-optimal” in developing “long-term and enduring relationships” with European allies. Craddock said he recently asked for a list of training exercises and partnership-building missions that had to be canceled because of wartime troop shortages. “It was surprising in its volume,” Craddock said of the list of canceled missions. He added that, during his military career, his Europe-based assignments were especially important in engaging with long-term partners, helping build allied militaries and developing an enduring connection between American forces and their host communities.
In Afghanistan, about 15,000 U.S. troops are among the 34,000 multinational forces in NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which helps provide stability for Afghanistan’s government. ISAF also operates 25 provincial reconstruction teams, which Craddock called “the leading edge of NATO’s efforts for security and reconstruction.” (See related article.)
Security and economic development go “hand in hand,” Craddock said. However, he acknowledged that the 26-nation NATO alliance is having difficulty staffing the reconstruction teams. NATO’s member nations have committed themselves to the Afghanistan mission, but NATO’s “level of ambition … is not matched by its political will” for member nations to deploy troops, Craddock said.
Approximately 200 NATO forces are also in Iraq, providing staff training for Iraqi officers and noncommissioned officers.
Skelton said he remains “convinced that the effort in Afghanistan is winnable. But our partners must seriously step up their efforts by contributing more troops and aid.”