15 Years after Cold War, a Troop Shift ; President Would Bring 70,000 Troops Home from Europe and Asia - a Major Step in the Post-Cold-War Revamp of US Military

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President Bush's announcement that the US will withdraw 70,000 troops from Europe and Asia represents a long-awaited major adjustment of the American military following the cold war's end.

It's true that the Pentagon has shuttered dozens of big installations in Europe over the past decade, but US world troop deployments still basically reflect a pattern designed to contain a communist threat that no longer exists, analysts say.

The sensitivities of allies, plus the military's traditional resistance to organizational change, have contributed to the persistence of the US presence overseas. The strain of the US deployments in Iraq - plus the pressures of presidential politics, and the simple passage of time - may have finally broken that resistance.

"I think overall it's a good idea," says Michael O'Hanlon, a military strategy expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

"It's good to think strategically about where our forces are, and why."

Currently the US has about 100,000 troops based in Europe, with about 70 percent of those in Germany. Another 100,000 are scattered throughout Asia and the Pacific, with heavy concentrations in Japan and South Korea.

Over the next decade about 70,000 of those uniformed personnel will be transferred to other home bases, mostly back in the United States, Bush said Monday in a speech to veterans in the swing state of Ohio. Another 100,000 dependents and civilian employees will be similarly relocated.

Carried to conclusion, this restructuring would represent the largest shift in the footprint of the US military since the Korean War, note administration officials. It would also go some way toward fulfilling a goal Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has long pushed: making the US military a leaner, potentially faster-moving machine.

Under this strategy, the US would rely more heavily on flexible units based in the US that can move quickly to bare-bones "lily pad" bases that are closer to potential trouble spots than today's mammoth structures in Western Europe.

The long-term changes "will help us strengthen our ability to confront the new dangers that we face," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan Monday.

Administration spokesmen cautioned that the changes will take time, and that the US public shouldn't expect Fort Hood in Texas to soon begin absorbing thousands of GIs flooding off airlifters with all their worldly possessions.

Indeed, in that sense the Bush administration appears to be simply associating itself with an action that might not begin in earnest until well into the next presidential term.

And while Bush officials insisted that this effort is much broader than the troop-shuffling related to Iraq deployments, the strain of maintaining 150,000 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan has surely focused Pentagon minds on a more efficient force structure, note analysts. …


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