Friday, March 11, 2005

U.S. footprint in Europe changing to meet strategy

by Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

The U.S. military footprint in Europe is changing as radically as the capabilities of American forces, the NATO's supreme allied commander Europe said in an interview Tuesday.

Marine Corps Gen. James Jones said the 20th century military philosophy that mass equals commitment is not true in the 21st century. "It's not the size of the force you have, it's what you are able to do with it that's important," Jones said.

U.S. European Command's transformation is aimed at making forces there strategically more effective and agile. The American military presence in Europe is a cornerstone of the NATO. With the addition of seven new nations to the alliance -- Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania and Bulgaria -- the focus of the 26-nation alliance has shifted eastward, Jones said.

He said the borders of the alliance are harder to define, and the alliance has moved away from the "defensive crouch" it maintained against the Soviet Union. Operations in Afghanistan and Iraq further complicate the territorial area.

But as NATO changes, so must U.S. forces, he said. American troop strength in Europe will drop from its current 112,000 to around 50,000, said European Command officials. American forces will go from two full divisions in Germany and a brigade combat team in Italy to a brigade combat team in Germany, another in Italy and up to one more rotating among forward-operating sites.

American forces in Europe will be in three types of bases, Jones said. The first are main operating bases, installations like Ramstein Air Base, Germany, and U.S. Naval Station Rota, Spain. These bases will remain hubs and have American forces assigned to them.

The second are called forward-operating sites. Jones calls these bases "light-switch operations" -- meaning all troops arriving have to do is turn the lights on and operations can proceed. Examples of these bases are Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo, Camp Eagle in Bosnia, and Incirlik Air Base in Turkey.

The general said there will also be forward-operating sites in Morocco, Tunisia, Bulgaria and Romania. Essentially, we "know what is there, and we know what to bring when we come," Jones said. "We can go from a zero presence to an operating base very quickly."

The third type of base is called a cooperative security site. These could be as small as a fueling agreement or as complicated as a few American contractors ensuring facilities are ready for U.S. troops to operate. "These will be an inventory of geographical locations that if we need them, it will be pre-agreed with host nations that we can have access to these bases," Jones said.

The key to the new footprint is an effective pre-positioning program, the general said.

Jones also discussed the North Atlantic alliance's mission in Afghanistan. He said the current NATO-led International Security Assistance Force will grow from its current strength of 8,600 and expand to the western part of the country. This will mean NATO will man four more provincial reconstruction teams and assume security duties all the way out to the Iranian border. "The NATO ISAF will ultimately have more than half the landmass of Afghanistan," he said.

The next phase in Afghanistan would mean an expansion to the south, and the final phase would go to the east, he said. "A year ago, we had a hard time envisioning anything beyond Phase 1, the Kabul area," he said. "With renewed international interest due to the [NATO summit in Nice, France, during February], we can see Phase 4 and eventually a NATO mission in Afghanistan."

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