Discussions Continue On U.S. Military 'Footprint' in Europe
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 23, 2004 The United States is getting closer in deciding how it will rearrange its troop presence, or "footprint," in Europe, a senior U.S. military officer said here today.
"Now, the question will be how do you take the next step and actually do formal consultations," Air Force Gen. Charles F. Wald, deputy commander of U.S. European Command, told reporters at a foreign policy symposium held in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill.
In the changed geopolitical environment since the end of the Cold War and the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America, Wald explained, it's time to relook how and where U.S. troops are stationed overseas.
Press reports have speculated that some of today's permanent U.S. troop presence in Germany, for example, could shift eastward to temporary bases in places like Bulgaria, while others are redeployed stateside or to other places where needed.
About 84 percent of the 120,000 U.S. troops now in Europe, Wald pointed out, are stationed in Germany.
The U.S. has already held private consultations with its allies on issues related to potential movement of American troops, Wald said.
Senior Defense Department leaders, in conjunction with the National Security Council and other government agencies, Wald noted, are now discussing "the best way that they would recommend to the president of how they should move forward with this."
Wald said he thinks "it won't be too long" before the plans are finalized and announced.
Any redeployment of U.S. troops from Western Europe shouldn't bother the Russians, Wald said, noting he considers the Russians a "strategic partner for us -- particularly militarily."
The American military, Wald explained, wants closer relations with the Russian military "as part of an open partnership."
Wald also pointed to good U.S. military-to-military relations with the Ukraine, which now has more than 1,500 troops in Iraq. That, he noted, makes the Ukraine the largest non-NATO contributor to Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Pointing to future challenges in EUCOM's area of operations, Wald noted the Black Sea region that borders the Ukraine, Russia, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey and the South Caucasus that encompasses Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia are now recognized as a new geo-political hot spot, thanks to the region's hydrocarbon resources on the Caspian Sea and potential for terrorism and drug and weapons trafficking.
Regarding U.S. military presence in the South Caucasus region, Wald noted, "we don't intend to make a permanent base there, not whatsoever." Rather, the general envisions a "strategic (military) partnership" with South Caucasus countries. "We intend to train with those folks," he noted.
South Caucasus countries are active in helping the U.S. and its other allies fight terrorism, Wald noted. Georgia now has 162 troops in Iraq, while Azerbaijan has contributed 150. Armenia has pledged to send 57 de-miners, truckers and doctors to Iraq. And Moldova currently has 12 de-mining specialists awaiting airlift to Iraq.
Al Qaeda and other terrorists on the run from former havens in Afghanistan, Wald pointed out, could also consider a move to the huge African continent, which also falls under EUCOM's area of responsibility.
He said he's also concerned about the African HIV/AIDS crisis that's threatening the continent's political and social stability and economic future. The potential unraveling of Africa's social fabric caused by HIV/AIDS, he pointed out, could entice terrorists to take up residence there.
However, the United States military and its allies, Wald asserted, are now "making it very difficult" for al Qaeda and its imitators "to go anyplace and stay for any length of time."
And making al Qaeda and other terrorists uncomfortable and unwelcome "is what our job is," Wald concluded.