- The Washington Times - Friday, March 26, 2004

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday that plans to shift forces in Asia and Europe have not yet reached a point where proposals have been taken to the countries involved.

Mr. Rumsfeld has been involved in a well-publicized global force realignment that is likely to result in pulling some of the 70,000 U.S. troops from Germany and dispersing them to Eastern European countries and the United States.

In Asia, he is shifting American forces from the Korean demilitarized zone and from the South Korean capital, Seoul, and redeploying them to bases farther south.

“One principle is that we clearly do not want to bring all our forces home,” Mr. Rumsfeld told a Pentagon news conference. “We want to have a presence in various parts of the world because it has a healthy deterrent effect. It has the effect of also enabling us to train and work with our friends and allies around the world so that we can function in a combined and joint manner in the event we’re called to take action.”

U.S. officials have said for at least the past year that the final plan will call for moving troops from Europe because the likelihood of a tank battle with Russian troops is virtually nil. Officials argue that some of the 118,000 troops in Europe can be better used in Central Asia to support operations in Afghanistan.

New NATO members in Eastern Europe have sought the presence of U.S. bases, which can fuel economic growth and jobs.

“We have choices,” Mr. Rumsfeld said.

The Washington Post reported yesterday that there is a plan to take half of the 70,000 troops in Germany and move them to new bases. Mr. Rumsfeld called such reports “speculation.”

Marine Corps Gen. James Jones, the NATO commander who has been consulting with European allies on the shift, was in Washington yesterday to justify his budget before the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense. He said he is about four months away from submitting a realignment plan to European countries.

“My view is that we’re still negotiating. We’re still talking about the size of the footprint and how it will look,” he said.

Gen. Jones said American troops would be deployed temporarily to bases in Eastern Europe, Africa and Central Asia, where they could strengthen ties with former Soviet republics. NATO is commanding a peacekeeping force in Afghanistan to augment the 11,000-strong U.S. task force fighting al Qaeda and Taliban remnants.

The Air Force will continue to operate its large air base at Ramstein, Germany, a gateway for materiel and troops flowing via large jet transports to the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan.

“At the end of the day, the picture is a strategically more agile force that is able to go out and confront the challenges where they exist before they metastasize, before they become real big problems,” Gen. Jones said.

This story is based in part on wire reports.

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