US military and diplomatic officials discuss way ahead in Europe
By JENNIFER H. SVAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 29, 2012
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — More than 500 U.S. military representatives and diplomatic officials posted at embassies and government agencies throughout Europe met for a series of conferences here this week to discuss force posture, strategy and the way ahead in light of the Pentagon’s new defense guidance.
U.S. European Command was host for the annual conferences, which, this year for the first time, were scheduled concurrently to save money, EUCOM officials said, since the attendees come from more than 40 of EUCOM’s partner nations and conference participation overlaps.
Achieving “greater efficiencies” and the implications of reduced resources were also important themes for the week, officials said.
The reduced footprint in Europe under the new defense strategy will have the greatest impact on ground forces, with the pending departure of two U.S. Army combat brigades – more than 6,000 soldiers – from Germany.
But that loss is not expected to significantly affect EUCOM’s mission, said Navy Rear Adm. Mark Montgomery, EUCOM’s deputy director of plans, policy and strategy.
The smaller ground force in Europe is counter-balanced by the planned addition of increased maritime, special forces and missile defense capabilities as part of the new defense strategy, Montgomery said.
“I think overall our posture will be enhanced by this,” Montgomery said during a conference break Tuesday. EUCOM’s infantry soldiers over the last eight years have been heavily engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said.
“As we’re winding down our commitment in Afghanistan, we will have two brigades fully committed to the missions here in Europe,” he said.
Montgomery also said the end of the war in Afghanistan should free EUCOM allies with troops deployed there to do more military-to-military training and partnership building with other European countries, a cornerstone of EUCOM’s mission.
The United Kingdom, for example, has a “10,000-person commitment there,” he said. “As they wind down from Afghanistan … they will develop their own national priorities and plans that we think will contribute to an overall more robust or equally robust capability to train and operate in Europe.”
EUCOM is keen to continue the level of cooperation established with partner countries it worked with in Afghanistan, Montgomery said.
“If we can figure out the best way to continue” that, “that will be a big success,” he said. “That’s the road ahead.”