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British military flying in Germany ends after 68 years

A British Royal Navy HMA.8 Super Lynx helicopter.

COURTESY OF THE U.S. NAVY

By SLOBODAN LEKIC | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 15, 2013

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — British military flying in Germany has ended after 68 years with a ceremonial fly-past of the last Lynx helicopters on Friday, the British military said.

The withdrawal of the remaining choppers is part of a sharp reduction of Britain’s 20,000-strong military presence in Germany. In March, Britain’s defense secretary, Philip Hammond, announced that all British troops would be withdrawn from their bases in Germany by 2020. In the first phase of the drawdown, about 15,000 servicemembers will be pulled out in the next three years.

Meanwhile, Britain’s regular army is scheduled to shrink from its current full strength of 102,000 troops to just 82,000 over the coming years.

The last three Lynx helicopters of the 1st Regiment Army Air Corps based in Germany left their base at Gütersloh on Friday, according to a British Ministry of Defence statement. It said the move marked the cessation of British military flying in Germany for the first time since the Nazi defeat in 1945.

At the height of the Cold War, the Royal Air Force had hundreds of aircraft — including several squadrons of nuclear bombers — in West Germany, and operated dozens of air bases throughout the country.

The drawdown of British forces is part of a general trend affecting all NATO allies, caused by budgetary pressures and the winding down of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Germany served as a launch pad and logistical hub for those conflicts. With Afghan forces now in the lead on the battlefield, NATO remains on track to pull out all of its remaining combat troops by the end of next year.

The U.S. Army is expected to have just 30,000 troops in Germany by 2017, down from nearly 220,000 in 1991. The Army’s last M1 Abrams main battle tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles were shipped off across the Atlantic last spring.

NATO’s top officials have repeatedly called on the allies to increase defense spending, saying that the alliance risks becoming militarily irrelevant if present cuts continue.

lekic.slobodan@stripes.com

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