CINCINNATI President Bush yesterday used a speech before a National Veterans of Foreign Wars convention to announce plans to bring home up to 70,000 troops stationed mostly in Europe and Asia in the biggest realignment of the U.S. military since the end of the Cold War.
The President said the 10-year plan to close and consolidate hundreds of U.S. facilities abroad and replace them with smaller units reflects a post-Cold War mentality in which troops are no longer needed to guard against a Soviet threat.
The world has changed a great deal, and our posture must change with it for the sake of our military families, for the sake of our taxpayers, and so we can be more effective at protecting our strength and spreading freedom and peace, he told thousands of veterans attending the Cincinnati convention.
It will reduce the stress on our troops and our military families, he said. Although we ll still have a significant presence overseas, the plan I am announcing today, over the next 10 years, will bring home about 60,000 to 70,000 uniformed personnel and about 100,000 family members and civilian employees.
The President said the redeployment would create a more flexible military that is better positioned to fight terrorism.
Some troops will be brought home, Mr. Bush said, while others will be rotated through locations closer to the terrorist threat principally the Middle East and Central Asia, as well as Southeast Asia. The administration already is striking deals for greater access rights and temporary basing privileges in nations closer to areas believed to be terrorist headquarters and havens.
For decades America s armed forces abroad have essentially remained where the wars of the last century ended, in Europe and in Asia, Mr. Bush said. America s current force posture was designed, for example, to protect us and our allies from Soviet aggression. The threat no longer exists.
The redeployment will affect an additional 100,000 military support and families, but it will not affect the troops now in Iraq and Afghanistan, deployments that have stretched the Army.
There are about 200,000 troops not assigned to Iraq or Afghanistan stationed outside the United States, with about half of those in Europe.
Pentagon officials said two large U.S. Army divisions in Germany the 1st Armored and the 1st Infantry would make up the bulk of returning forces. A division includes 18,000 to 25,000 troops. More forces will return home from posts in Asia.
At the same time, a Stryker brigade about 3,000 to 5,000 troops outfitted with new Stryker vehicles, the smaller, lighter, and faster armored vehicles that are a key to the Army s strategy would be moved to Germany.
More of our troops will be stationed and deployed from here at home, Mr. Bush said.
We ll move some of our troops and capabilities to new locations so they can surge quickly to deal with unexpected threats. We ll take advantage of 21st century military technologies to rapidly deploy increased combat power. The new plan will help us fight and win these wars of the 21st century, he said.
The major moves likely won t begin until fiscal 2006 or later, with a bulk of those returning to the United States over several years, leaving time for American bases and the soldiers themselves to prepare for the move.
Mr. Bush said changes were necessary for the sake of our military families ... Our service members will have more time on the home front, and more predictability and fewer moves over a career. Our military spouses will have fewer job changes, greater stability, more time for their kids and to spend with their families at home.
The President s proposal ran into immediate criticism from retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark, who is supporting Mr. Bush s Democratic rival, Sen. John Kerry. Mr. Clark said the proposal made little strategic sense for conducting a global war on terrorism and he said the plan would significantly undermine U.S. national security.
As we face a global war on terror with al-Qaeda active in more than 60 countries, now is not the time to pull back our forces, and I question why President Bush would want to do this now, Mr. Clark said. This ill-conceived move and its timing seem politically motivated.
Mr. Clark said an evaluation in the 1990s led to the decision that troops would be needed in Europe and Asia.
It makes sense to have those forces in Europe because they can deploy more rapidly from Europe, and this administration wants to say those forces should come home, he said.
Richard Holbrooke, a former assistant secretary of state and ambassador to the United Nations under President Bill Clinton, accused Mr. Bush of trying to deflect attention from the strain on the military by prolonged deployments in Iraq. He criticized Mr. Bush for slipping a historic announcement into a campaign speech.
It s not good diplomacy, said Mr. Holbrooke, who argued that the plan will undermine relations with allies. It sends the message that this administration continues to operate in a unilateral manner without adequately consulting its closest allies. It s a mistake, driven by the fact that we re stretched too thin in Iraq and the presidential election.
The President, meanwhile, criticized his Democratic opponent for saying a Kerry presidency would mean a significant reduction in U.S. troops in Iraq within six months.
That sends the wrong signal to the enemy, who can easily wait six months and one day, said Mr. Bush. It sends the wrong message to our troops that a complete mission may not be necessary. It sends the wrong message to the Iraqi people who wonder whether America means what it says.
The President s 30-minute speech met with an enthusiastic response from the veterans. Mr. Kerry will speak before the same crowd tomorrow.
David Kolbe, a former Henry County Commissioner who works for the AFL-CIO in Columbus, was an Army Airborne Specialist E5 during the Vietnam War. He plans to vote for Mr. Kerry and believes veterans, like most of America, are divided.
My issue with this war is economics, he said. My granddaughter was born Sept. 7 , four days before 9/11, and she s going to have to pay for this war. My grandson is a year old. I m looking at their economic future.
This report includes information from the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Associated Press, and New York Times.
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