Wednesday, January 12, 2005

EXCLUSIVE: European Chief Considers Using Existing, austere bases

European Chief Considers Using Existing, austere bases
By: Vince Crawley

As he eyes new locations for US troops in and around Europe, the top commander for the region small contigents likely will continue serving in Bosnia, Kosovo and the Republic of Georgia for years to come.

But, rather than build costly facilities for future missions, Marine Corps Gen. James Jones said he’s primarily interested in making use of existing locations – including US camps as well as existing facilities in potential host countries such as Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland and Romania.

“I’m for capitalizing on things that we’ve already put a lot of money in,” Jones said in a late December interview while visiting Washington.

Jones said Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo is an almost ideal model of the kind of installations he envisions for American troops in Europe in the decades ahead – small, austere, no family-support infrastructure and located in the heart of a potential hot spot where even a small US presence can have a significant impact.
For that reason, he favors turning Bondsteel into a semi permanent forward operating base “because its built, its already there,” he said. The massive base, in a sparsely Kosovo, was swiftly built as a hub for US troops after NATO’s 1999 air war against Serbia.

Though Kosovo no longer makes front-page headlines, about 1,800 U.S. troops are deployed there as part of larger NATO force. The province – where ethnic Albanians seek to break away from Serbia - is “still a pretty hot spot and will be for at least a couple of years more” said Jones, who is commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Europe.

Once a lasting peace takes hold the United States should be able to reduce its presence, but Jones said he sees no reason to abandon Camp Bondsteel.

“It’s fairly strategic; it’s an important part of Europe from the standpoint of the war on terrorism,” he said.

Jones has undertaken a similar strategy with the former Eagle Base at Tuzla Airport in nearby Bosnia and Herzegovina. The NATO peacekeeping mission there formally ended in December after nine years but a small American presence remains at the facility, renamed Camp Eagle. The base can accommodate a “battalion-sized surge” of roughly 1,000 troops, and the tiny permanent party presence can ensure access to the airfield at any time, Jones said.

Former Soviet Bloc

The American military presence in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia is more recent and is generally measured in the dozens of low hundreds. But Jones said that the United States has also devoted several years’ worth of financial and diplomatic resources to help train and equip Georgian forces for fights against regional rebel militants with ties to terrorist groups.
About 110,000 U.S. military personnel are assigned to units based in Europe, though tens of thousands are deployed to Iraq. Jones two years ago launched an initiative that’s in the process of sending about half of those troops to the home base within the United States.

The idea is to create a leaner, more deployable presence in Europe without the added costs of family services and extensive community infrastructure. Still, at least 55,000 American troops will remain in Europe – centered at Ramstein Air Base and Grafenwoehr, Germany, as well as deployment hubs in northern Italy and major ports in Rota, Spain, and Naples, Italy.

Naples will be home to the U.S. Navy’s European headquarters, which is transferring from London.
Jones’ staff also is engaged in diplomacy with new NATO allies, particularly Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland and Romania, to develop training sites for U.S. troops. (Army Times, January 17, 2005)

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