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Myers Visiting U.S. Troops in Kosovo, Bosnia

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

PRISTINA, Kosovo, Sept. 17, 2003 – Joint Chiefs Chairman Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers will visit American troops here and in Bosnia in the next few days to thank them for the jobs they are doing to keep peace in the Balkans.

There are 2,500 American service members here, and 1,500 based in Bosnia. The vast majority of the service members are National Guardsmen called up for the missions.

Myers said it has been a long time since he has been to the region, and he felt it was important to come to the region and assess the progress personally. The chairman also will meet with leaders in the region, and then will travel to Poland and Hungary for more talks.

The chairman said he will assess the situation in the Balkans. He said any decision to reduce the number of troops in Kosovo or Bosnia will be done in concert with NATO allies. "In together, out together, but hasten the day" is the operative phrase, he said. President Bush made that vow, and it means NATO went into the region together, and it will leave the region together. Still, that does not mean that the number of NATO troops has to remain at the level it is today, Myers said.

American forces are just a part of the NATO force in Kosovo and Bosnia. The chairman said troop strength needed is evaluated constantly. He anticipates that number will drop.

He said what is "hastening the day" is that the civilian structures in the region are now up and running.

The chairman said the United States has no intention to pull out of operations in the Balkans unilaterally. "Anything we do will be in consultation with our allies," he said.

Still, it is in U.S. interests to lessen the strain on the military, the chairman said. Myers pointed to deployments in the Sinai, Kosovo, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan, all of which place demands on a finite resource. "It all adds up," he said.

While U.S. service members will stay in the countries for the near future, other contingencies will be examined. Some Europeans have suggested turning the mission over to the European Union, and that should be studied, he said.

Myers said he will discuss the help that Poland and Hungary have given in the global war on terrorism. Poland leads the Multinational Division, Central-South in Iraq. Myers said all reports are that the force is working well and settling in to its responsibilities.

Hungary has provided a place for training of the Free Iraqi Forces that aided American units during the liberation of Iraq. Hungary also has troops with the Multinational Division.

Myers said he will talk about the U.S. troop "footprint" in Europe if asked, but the proposal is not ready yet for serious discussion. The United States is examining the basing of American forces around the world. The chairman used the example of U.S. forces in the Republic of Korea. "We'll have troops in Korea, but does it make sense to have them in the exact same place they were when the armistice was signed 50 years ago?" he asked. "Does that make sense, or is there a better place for our forces to be?"

What this comes down to, he said, is whether U.S. forces are positioned where they should be, given the threats of the 21st century.

"Those discussions are ongoing," Myers said. "The secretary (Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld) has made no decisions on any of that. There are recommendations by the combatant commanders, the theater commanders, there's some analysis ongoing, but we're a long way from decisions."

The chairman said the changes will be discussed within the U.S. military, and with friends and allies in other areas. He said Americans should not forget that part of the decision on basing could be political.

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