August 16, 2004
CINCINNATI - President Bush on Monday announced plans to shift as many as 70,000 U.S. troops who are now stationed in Western Europe and Asia in one of the largest realignments since the end of the Cold War.
Some of the troops would be moved to posts in Eastern Europe while others would be based in the United States, available for deployment overseas, White House officials said. It remained unclear if the overall number of U.S. troops stationed overseas would drop.
The action follows years of debate over how to position U.S. troops to respond to modern-day threats such as terrorism and continued unrest in the Middle East. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has said he wants troops to based more flexibly so they can be used for a wider variety of missions, rather than being tied to a single country.
The plan could gain Bush election-year applause from military families, but it won't ease the strain on 150,000 U.S. soldiers deployed to war zones and still battling violent factions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Our armed forces have changed a lot. ... They're better able to strike anywhere in the world ... on short notice," Bush said. "Yet for decades America's armed forces have essentially remained where the wars of the last century have ended - in Europe and in Asia."
The president said he would move "some of our troops and capabilities to new locations so they can surge quickly to deal with unexpected threats." Poland and Turkey have been mentioned as possible locations for additional troops.
Bush spoke at a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Cincinnati where veterans, wearing the group's trademark caps covered with colorful pins, gave him a warm welcome. Democratic presidential challenger John Kerry addresses the group on Wednesday.
The president said the repositioning of forces would help save money on maintaining bases overseas.
Bush says tens of thousands of U-S troops will be withdrawn from Europe and Asia.
"Our service members will have more time on the home front, and more predictability and fewer moves over a career," Bush added.
A U.S. military official in Berlin offered a note of caution as the president spoke, saying that any shift of major U.S. military units out of Western Europe and Asia would take years and require further negotiations with countries like Germany.
Even with Bush's endorsement, the plan will probably be put into practice only somewhere between 2006 and 2011, said the official, who is familiar with the process and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The official said some details have been discussed with the affected countries, but more talks would be needed to settle such matters as units, dates and specific numbers.
U.S. armed forces stationed abroad in places other than Iraq and Afghanistan number about 200,000. About half are in Europe. The Pentagon advised German officials earlier this year that it was thinking about removing two Army divisions from Germany and replacing them with smaller, more mobile units.
American troops were based in large numbers in Germany during the Cold War to deter a Soviet invasion, which is no longer seen as a threat. The United States has also said it plans to reduce troop numbers in South Korea, where they have held static positions for 50 years.
Senior administration officials have said Bush's overall plan affects 70,000 or more uniformed military personnel plus 100,000 of their family members and support personnel.
Some 70,000 U.S. troops are currently stationed in Germany, including the 1st Armored and 1st Infantry Divisions.
Details on which bases might be closed have been sketchy, but officials have indicated that the huge Ramstein Air Base and the Landstuhl military hospital in southwestern Germany are not involved.
Bush's speech came as the U.S. death toll in Iraq was approaching 1,000 and National Guard and Reserve troops were serving extended tours of duty.
Aides to Kerry blamed a lack of postwar planning by the Bush administration for the increased burden the reservists are shouldering. They also noted that the Massachusetts senator has proposed adding 40,000 troops to the regular Army and expanding special operations forces.
Kerry has said he would try to withdraw some troops from Iraq during his first six months in office. That idea has drawn criticism from Bush, who says that simply would urge insurgents to wait until the U.S. presence was thinned before attacking.
Both Bush and Kerry have been trying to bolster their national security credentials.
The VFW convention is getting special attention from both political parties partly because it is being held in Ohio, perhaps the hottest battlefield of this year's election. Bush carried Ohio by 3.6 percentage points in 2000 over Democrat Al Gore.