Rumsfeld Honors Macedonian Troops, Visits Romanian Airbase
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
BUCHAREST, Romania, Oct. 11, 2004 Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld arrived here today to confer with senior Romanian officials before attending NATO informal defense ministerial meetings Oct. 13 and 14 in Poiana Brasov.
Earlier today Rumsfeld was in Skopje, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, where he met with President Branko Crvenkovski and other officials and attended a bilateral meeting with Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski.
The secretary signed an agreement in Skopje calling for U.S.-Macedonian military cooperation to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The United States also agreed to provide Macedonia with technical assistance, training, equipment, and $250,000 to be used in the fight against global terrorism.
During an awards ceremony, Rumsfeld thanked three Macedonian soldiers cited for their actions in Iraq that helped save U.S. servicemembers' lives. One other Macedonian soldier who'd been similarly cited wasn't present at the ceremony.
Rumsfeld arrived in Skopje on the evening of Oct. 10, after spending the day in Iraq visiting U.S., coalition and Iraqi troops at Al Asad, Baghdad, Kirkuk, and Irbil.
At a press conference held at a Macedonian government building, Rumsfeld praised Macedonian troops in Iraq for "standing shoulder-to-shoulder with American and coalition forces to help to create a free Iraq, a liberated Iraq." There are now about 32 Macedonian soldiers in Iraq, including Special Forces troops.
Macedonia's work in NATO's Partnership for Peace program and the Adriatic Charter, Rumsfeld noted, "is helping to improve stability in the region."
The secretary also praised Macedonia's actions to reform and democratize its military and political system, noting he assured senior Macedonian government officials that the United States supports those reforms and Macedonia's desire to join NATO.
The secretary said he deeply appreciates Macedonia's "steadfast support" in the global war on terrorism. The U.S. looks to continued partnership with Macedonia, Rumsfeld said, "to strengthen our military cooperation in the future."
Leaving Skopje, the secretary flew on to Constanta, Romania, on the Black Sea, to tour an underused Romanian military facility that may again buzz with the activity of U.S. troops.
During February and March 2003, a senior DoD official noted, about 3,500 U.S. servicemembers conducted air transportation and logistics operations at Mihail Kogalniceanu Airbase in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Romanian authorities, the DoD official explained, are cognizant that the U.S. military is looking for new overseas training facilities to replace outmoded ones as part of President Bush's policy to realign America's global force posture. Consequently, the Romanians invited Rumsfeld to inspect the airbase, the official noted.
MK Airbase "is another potential facility that we could use," the DoD official acknowledged, noting U.S. authorities are also looking at other potential training sites in Bulgaria and other places.
The DoD official stressed that any potential renewed U.S. military presence at MK Airbase, or at the adjacent Romanian army base, would mostly involve the rotation of troops in and out of the facility for joint training exercises and not a large U.S. military contingent such as that found at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.
"We're not talking about a huge (U.S. military) presence" in Constanta, the DoD official explained, noting potential troop numbers would amount "in the small hundreds."
"But, more importantly," he continued, "it would be a place where we could come to exercise." And, a deployment of U.S. troops to the Constanta area, the DoD official pointed out, would prove a boon for the local economy.
A decision whether or not to take the Romanians up on their offer to use MK Airbase would be made after a joint DoD-State Department evaluation team visits the facility sometime later this year, the official said.