EUCOM Chief Spotlights Command's Role, Needs
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 12, 2001 European Command's 100,000 service members execute new missions every day, while successfully maintaining their warfighting edge, Air Force Gen. Joseph W. Ralston recently told Congress.
Sgt. 1st Class John Richardson, 4th Battalion, 27th Field Artillery Regiment, analyzes a crater at an area in Kosovo hit by mortar fire on March 29, 2001. The shelling killed two civilians and wounded 19 others. U.S. and Polish/Ukrainian medical personnel treated and evacuated the injured. Richardson is a member of U.S. European Command's support operations in the Balkans. Photo by Spc. Todd M. Roy, USA.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Over the last year, the EUCOM commander in chief said, the command supported air operations over northern Iraq and NATO-led peacekeeping missions in the Balkans. EUCOM supported relief operations in Mozambigue and trained African troops to support U.N. operations in Sierra Leone.
Ralston assumed command last May after serving at the Pentagon as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In his new role, he also serves as NATO's supreme allied commander in Europe.
Ralston testified before the House and Senate armed services committees here in late March. Each spring, the military's top regional commanders present security reviews to Capitol Hill. They cover their command's readiness posture, challenges and priorities.
EUCOM's chief noted in his prepared testimony that more than 300,000 troops were assigned to the command during the Cold War. His current force level of 100,000 represents a 65 percent reduction from 1990.
"In my opinion," the chief said, "this must be considered the minimum level needed to execute our current national security strategy, meet NATO requirements and provide support and staging for U.S.-based forces that in time of need would flow into or through the theater."
EUCOM's area of responsibility stretches from the northern tip of Norway to South Africa and from the Atlantic seaboard of Europe and Africa to parts of the Middle East and beyond the Black Sea, according to command officials. It includes 13 million square miles and 91 sovereign nations.
In Ralston's live testimony and written statement, he spotlighted the role U.S. forces play in Europe, Russia, the Caucasus and Africa. He said EUCOM has expanded its engagement efforts and is working to influence the military evolution of NATO, Partnership for Peace and emerging European defense structures.
EUCOM's missions are not without risk, the chief stressed. As part of Operation Northern Watch, he said, U.S. forces flew about 7,500 sorties over Northern Iraq last year. They were fired on more than 250 times and responded more than 60 times.
U.S. forces are also engaged in Bosnia and Kosovo, where tensions and ethnic conflict persist.
The situation in Bosnia has improved dramatically since 1995, Ralston noted. Enormous progress has been made implementing the military tasks in the Dayton Peace Accords, he said, yet more work remains to be done in civil implementation.
"I must also tell you that economically and politically, we still have a ways to go," he said. "We need to continue to keep that pressure on."
About 4,000 U.S. troops make up 20 percent of the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Bosnia, he said. In another few months, the number will drop to about 3,500. The drawdown is based on reviews U.S. and NATO officials conduct every six months.
Ralston said he fully supports the latest reduction. "We will continue to look for ways to bring that down, to ease the burden," he said. "At the same time, we have a mission to carry out and I want to make sure that we can do that."
Asked if conflict would reignite if NATO-led troops withdrew, Ralston replied: "It is my professional judgment that if we precipitously pulled out the troops right now, that conflict would start again."
Contrary to what some people think, Ralston stressed, European forces -- not American -- are carrying the bulk of the operation in Kosovo. Only about 5,500 Americans are among the 37,000 NATO-led troops from 39 nations now in Kosovo. Another 2,000 Americans and 5,000 NATO-led troops are in the neighboring Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
Recent fighting in Macedonia demonstrates the difficulty of patrolling the FYROM-Kosovo border, he noted. It is mountainous, wooded terrain. Families there have members on both sides and have used trails to go back and forth for centuries.
Rather than attempt to seal the border, he said, peacekeeping forces in Kosovo should concentrate on ensuring armed extremists are not going back and forth. U.S. military leaders, he added, have moved more forces down to the border in the U.S. sector to do a more effective job of patrolling.
The potential exists for further instability in the region, Ralston pointed out. "This area of the world has long been a clash between different civilizations and it all comes to a head around the Balkans."
The upcoming April 22 election in Montenegro, for example, is going to be significant because it will indicate whether the people there want independence from Yugoslavia. If they do, he said, that could trigger more questions about Kosovo and the Republic of Srpska in Bosnia.
Africa also presents challenges, Ralston said. European Command is working with many African countries to address economic, political and humanitarian issues.
EUCOM recently trained two Nigerian army battalions to take part in U.N. operations in Sierra Leone and plans are to train a third. EUCOM is also about to train a battalion in Ghana and another in Senegal.
"This is, I think, a proper role for us, to try to help the African nations deal with the problems that they've got there," Ralston told committee members. "I don't want anyone on the committee to be surprised if you hear that we've got American soldiers in Ghana or Senegal or Nigeria."
Ralston also discussed readiness, force protection and quality of life -- top command priorities. Although EUCOM can meet U.S. national security interests, he said, its infrastructure needs to be upgraded and replenished.
"Generally, significant increases in funding are necessary to maintain our readiness, continue current engagement efforts and make the necessary investments to sustain our quality of life," he said.