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US Army chief 'comfortable' with smaller force as Pentagon prepares cuts

U.S. Army chief General Raymond Odierno said he was "comfortable" about plans to slash brigades as the Pentagon prepares to announce $260 million defense cuts.
/ Source: news services

The U.S. Army chief said he is "comfortable" with plans to shrink the size of his force as the Pentagon prepares to slash eight brigades as part of defense cuts worth $260 billion over five years.

General Raymond Odierno, chief of staff of the Army, told Reuters: "We're now out of Iraq, we're reducing our commitment in Afghanistan, so we can now bring the size of the Army down. And I feel comfortable with how we're going to do that."

He was speaking on Wednesday, as the Pentagon prepared to unveil a smaller Army and the withdrawal of two brigade combat teams from Europe. Those fixed brigades will be replaced by rotational units.

The Pentagon will preview President Barack Obama's budget proposal for the Pentagon on Thursday.

It is expected to cut $260 billion in projected defense spending over the next five years and favor services like the Navy and the Air Force over the Army and Marines.

"It's more about the timeline we bring it down on, and I'm satisfied with that timeline,” Odierno said.

A U.S. official confirmed media reports that the Pentagon plans to slash eight Army brigades and reduce the overall force to as few as 490,000 over the next decade from around 565,000.

But Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta have said they will not hollow-out the force with the kind of cuts the military endured in the wake of the Vietnam war.

Indeed, U.S. officials have pointed to concerns about China's military buildup and North Korea's nuclear advances as they explain plans to focus more on the Asia-Pacific region.

Odierno, fresh from a trip to Asia, acknowledged the need for naval and air assets in any military strategy for the Pacific.

But he stressed that the Army will keep playing an important role in the region, and pointed to the 19,160 soldiers deployed in South Korea as a deterrent against the North.

Indeed, Odierno saw no downsizing of the Army presence in Asia and said it will further supplement its forces with troops who rotate in and out of the region.

"That's what we got to decide: How much rotational presence will we be able to do," Odierno said.

Odierno noted that the Army could play an important diplomatic role engaging with militaries in Asia, given that 22 out of the 28 chiefs of defense in the Pacific are army officers.

Seven out of the world's 10 largest land armies in the world are in the Pacific, he added.

That common army background "will help us to build relationships," he said.

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Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.