President Bush on Monday unveiled a plan for one of the largest U.S. troop realignments since the end of the Cold War, saying that calling home tens of thousands of U.S. troops from Europe and Asia will allow the United States to be “more effective at projecting our strength and spreading freedom and peace.”
In a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention, Bush said the redeployment of America’s military might would create a “more agile and flexible force” and “reduce the stress on our troops and military families.”
He said the shift would take place over the next 10 years. It will have no effect on forces in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Pentagon officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said after Bush's announcement that two Army divisions — the 1st Armored Division and 1st Infantry Division — will return to the United States from Germany as part of the restructuring.
Two Army divisions to be withdrawn from Germany
The units, which probably won’t start leaving their bases in Germany until 2006 at the earliest, will be replaced by a brigade — a much smaller unit. The brigade will be equipped with Stryker armored vehicles, which are much lighter and quicker than the M1A1 Abrams tanks used by the departing divisions.
All told, the United States will close nearly half of all its hundreds of installations in Europe, defense officials said. A Pentagon spokesman said the officials had to speak anonymously because “President Bush made the announcement.”
In his speech, Bush said the change is needed because troops positioned in Europe and Asia "essentially remain where the wars of the last century ended."
“The world has changed a great deal and our posture must change with it … so we can be more effective at projecting our strength and spreading freedom and peace,” he said.
Bush said that plans for the redeployment came only after close consultation with allies and Congress.
He also said the repositioning would help save money on maintaining bases overseas.
“Our service members will have more time on the home front, and more predictability and fewer moves over a career,” Bush said.
In advance of Bush's speech, senior administration officials said that a significant portion of the troops moved out of Europe and Asia would be sent to bases in the United States, although others could be shifted to posts in Eastern Europe.
Decision sure to be politically popular
The decision is sure to be a politically popular one at a time when Bush has refused to offer a timetable for bringing home the roughly 140,000 U.S. troops from Iraq.
U.S. armed forces stationed abroad in places other than Iraq and Afghanistan number about 200,000. About half are in Europe. The Pentagon advised German officials earlier this year that it was thinking about removing two Army divisions from Germany and replacing them with smaller, more mobile units.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld briefed his Russian counterpart, Sergei Ivanov, over the weekend during a visit to St. Petersburg. He told reporters later that the Russians “have an interest” in the redeployment plan, presumably because some of the countries that could play host to U.S. troops are former Soviet republics and Warsaw Pact states.
Bush’s speech comes as the U.S. death toll in Iraq is approaching 1,000 and National Guard and Reserve troops are serving extended tours of duty.
Aides to Democratic challenger John Kerry blamed a lack of postwar planning by the Bush administration for the increased burden the reservists are shouldering. They also noted that the Massachusetts senator has proposed adding 40,000 troops to the regular Army and expanding special operations forces.
Kerry has said he would try to withdraw some troops from Iraq during his first six months in office. That idea has drawn criticism from Bush, who says that simply would urge insurgents to wait until the U.S. presence was thinned before attacking.
Kerry to address veterans on Wednesday
Both Bush and Kerry, who is to speak Wednesday to the 15,000 VFW convention-goers, have been trying to bolster their national security credentials.
The president is working to convince voters that he is a strong, unwavering leader who has taken steps to make America safer and is best to lead the battle against terrorists. Democrats countered by opening their July convention with a focus on Kerry’s Vietnam combat experience, in contrast to Bush’s non-combat role in the Texas Air National Guard during the war.
The VFW convention is getting special attention from both political parties partly because it is being held in Ohio, perhaps the hottest battlefield of this year’s election. Bush carried Ohio by 3.6 percentage points in 2000 over Democrat Al Gore.
Later Monday, Bush travels to a campaign rally in northern Michigan, a state he lost to Gore. Bush’s visit to Traverse City, Mich., will be first by a sitting president since Gerald Ford in 1975.