Newspaper article International New York Times

Army Gets by with Less in Europe ; Mission for U.S. Grows despite Having Reduced Forces across Continent

Newspaper article International New York Times

Army Gets by with Less in Europe ; Mission for U.S. Grows despite Having Reduced Forces across Continent

Article excerpt

Across-the-board spending cuts are squeezing the Pentagon's budget, while a war-weary nation is showing little eagerness to sustain a global, war-ready crouch.

Less than three years after the United States Army sent home the last of its tanks that were permanently based in Europe, American commanders have been forced to rely on weapons shipped back temporarily or hardware borrowed from allies in the expanding effort to deter the latest threats from Russia with a fraction of the forces it had once deployed across the Continent.

That is part of an evolving mission as American commanders here are preparing, if called, to face off against a new set of threats - - not only from an aggressive Moscow, but also from rising militancy and chaos in the Middle East. But with across-the-board spending cuts squeezing the Pentagon's budget, and a war-weary nation showing little eagerness to sustain a global, war-ready crouch, one of the main targets in recent years has been the Army presence in Europe, a heavy land force in an increasingly digital combat zone.

Mustering the necessary troops and equipment for the mission here can be a challenge, said Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the Army's commanding general in Europe. The number of permanently stationed soldiers on the Continent has dropped 35 percent since 2012, and the Army has reduced some of its vehicles, weapons and support equipment or relocated it to other bases.

The Black Hawk helicopters used in a NATO exercise at the training center here in August, for instance, were rotated in for nine months from Fort Stewart, Ga., General Hodges said. Bringing over more helicopters requires either the multiple weeks to bring them by ship or the extra money to bring them by cargo plane.

So he has to go borrowing.

"I don't have bridges, I don't have the trucks that can carry tanks, we don't have enough helicopters to do what we need to do," General Hodges said. "Practicing with British helicopters here is an essential part of it. Using British and German bridges, using Hungarian air defense is part of it."

The transformation started more than 20 years ago. The number of soldiers permanently stationed in Europe in 1990, as the Cold War was nearing its end, was about 213,000, plummeting to more than 63,000 troops a decade later in a reflection of the reduced need.

Some question why soldiers are still needed in Europe at all, and why Washington should pay so much of the bill. Some members of Congress have gone so far as to object to closing any military facilities in their districts to save money while bases remain open in Europe.

"At a time when we must seriously consider cuts to our budget and balancing our budget, we should not continue to subsidize the defense of wealthy European nations against a Soviet threat that ceased to exist two decades ago," Representative Jared Polis, a Colorado Democrat, said on the House floor in 2012. …

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