updated 9/23/2004 8:00:03 AM ET 2004-09-23T12:00:03

Over the next decade, the military will abandon 35 percent of the Cold War-era bases and buildings it uses abroad, even as it seeks to expand a network of bare-bones sites in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe to help fight terrorism.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was outlining the plan Thursday to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

In a report to Congress, the Pentagon offered details of the “global defense posture.” The planned changes, once completed, will result in “the most profound reordering” of U.S. military forces overseas since the current global arrangements were set 50 years ago, according to the report.

The most widely noted aspect of the plan, which was announced in broad terms last month by President Bush, is the withdrawal of 70,000 U.S. troops and 100,000 of their family members from bases in Germany and South Korea. That has gained attention in part because it means fewer U.S. bases probably will be shuttered in the 2005 round of base closings than if there were no withdrawal.

Pentagon seeks maximum flexibility
Less well understood is that even while troops will return to the United States from Germany and South Korea, the Pentagon will be building up its network of “forward operating sites,” sometimes called “lily pad” bases. These are more austere than the large, fully developed bases — dubbed “Little Americas” — where U.S. forces stood guard during the Cold War.

“During the Cold War we had a strong sense that we knew where the major risks and fights were going to be, so we could deploy people right there,” Douglas Feith, the undersecretary of defense for policy, said in an Associated Press interview Wednesday.

“We’re operating now in a completely different concept,” said Feith, chief architect of the global realignment plan.

“We need to be able to do that whole range of military operations (from combat to peacekeeping) anywhere in the world pretty quickly.”

The Pentagon is seeking maximum flexibility in the decades ahead in responding to terrorism and other potential threats, including those to oil supplies. So the military wants a range of basing and access agreements with as many countries as possible and in as many regions as it can.

It foresees three types of overseas arrangements:

  • Main operating bases with permanently stationed forces and family support structures. Examples including Ramstein Air Base in Germany, Camp Humphreys in South Korea and Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan.
  • Forward operating sites maintained by a limited number of military personnel and possibly stored equipment. These sites will support rotational rather than permanently stationed forces. Examples are Soto Cano Air Base in Honduras and Thumrait and Masirah Island air bases in Oman.
  • Even more austere sites, which the Pentagon calls “cooperative security locations.” With little or no permanent U.S. presence, these may be maintained by contractor or host nation personnel. They will allow access for U.S. forces in special circumstances and be a focal point for regional cooperation. An example is the air base in Dakar, Senegal, and Entebbe airport in Uganda.

Among locations the Pentagon is considering adding:

  • The tiny island nation of Sao Tome and Principe, off the coast of West Africa. It is among the places Gen. Charles Wald, deputy commander of U.S. European Command, has mentioned as a potential U.S. forward operating site, but not a base. Sao Tome holds a strategic position in the Gulf of Guinea from which the U.S. military could monitor the movement of oil tankers and protect oil platforms.
  • In Bulgaria, which joined the U.S.-led NATO alliance this year, the Sarafovo and Graf Ignatievo air fields could serve as bases for U.S. troops to deploy on rotational training tours.
  • In Romania, the Americans have shown interest in the Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base, the Babadag training range and the Black Sea military port of Mangalia.
  • In Australia, where Pentagon officials have said they have no plans for permanent bases, U.S. forces likely will conduct joint training with Australian forces.

The terms under which U.S. forces could use these sites and facilities will have to be negotiated. Feith said the Pentagon wants to avoid the kind of environmental or political constraints that have limited U.S. military training and deployment options in Europe in recent years.

“If countries are going to subject us to the kinds of restrictions that may mean we’re not going to be able to fulfill the purpose of having troops deployed there, then we’re going to have to think whether to have troops deployed there,” Feith said.

Senior Bush administration officials already have held talks with many countries, including Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, the Philippines, Poland, Romania, Singapore, Thailand, Turkey and Uzbekistan.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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