On Thursday at the Pentagon, U.S. Army Europe commander Gen. David McKiernan said the current U.S. troop strength in Europe should be cut only slightly — and that brigades in Schweinfurt and Baumholder should stay put — in the most specific statement yet about a possible softening of the plan to reduce the military’s footprint in Europe by two-thirds.

In Baumholder, where the local government has continued to lobby to keep the brigade, the reaction was positive.

“Nothing has changed. We want to be an enduring community,” said Lt. Col. Derek R. Rountree, garrison commander.

What happens next is up to the Department of the Army, U.S. Army Europe officials said Friday.

McKiernan’s comments were the first time that a “resurgent Russia” and potential difficulties in Kosovo were offered publicly as part of a rationale to keep four brigades in Germany instead of only two.

But for the past several months, numerous military officials have suggested that the 2002 transformation plan, including the reduction of what were 62,000 Army troops in Europe to some 24,000 and touted as a rational response to the end of the Cold War, was too drastic under current conditions.

“I think this is an effort to, before final decisions are made, to lay down some markers and say, ‘Let’s revisit what that minimum presence is,’ ” said Stephen Flanagan, director of the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

“My sense is that EUCOM (the U.S. European Command) has been anxious to assess the credible minimum presence (of troops),” Flanagan said. “I think there are a lot of people that feel that the U.S. is becoming so minimal that people could come to doubt the depth of our commitment.

“I think McKiernan’s saying, ‘We’ve got a great deal of uncertainty in the European theater, and (our allies) are worried. Where is the U.S. going?’ ”

The plan to sharply reduce troop strength in Europe was formulated as military planners believed that operations in Afghanistan and Iraq would be short-lived. But by November, fully half of Europe-based troops will be deployed there.

In March, Gen. Bantz J. Craddock, commander of the U.S. European Command, told the House Armed Services Committee that transformation plans were being revisited because of “numerous changes in the security dynamic.”

Craddock said operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, a new Africa command and NATO transformation were all factors now seen differently than when EUCOM devised its 2002 Strategic Theater Transformation plan.

Craddock said that with combat deployments continuing into the forseeable future, there would be too few Europe-based troops to carry out EUCOM missions, such as joint military training with allies.

The same month, the U.S. Army Europe general leading USAREUR transformation efforts indicated coming changes to the plan, based in part on the new decision to enlarge the Army by 65,000 soldiers.

“It is yet to be determined what this means for USAREUR,” said Brig. Gen. David G. Perkins. “The end-state envisioned a couple years ago is not going to be what the [actual] end-state will be.”

And in July, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace told a group of Schweinfurt soldiers that the drawdown might end soon, with more soldiers staying in Germany than had previously been planned.

“Right now, I can tell you for sure that we are looking at the future lay-down of forces globally and [asking], ‘Does it make sense to continue to drawdown in Europe, or does it make sense to stop the drawdown?’ ”

Pace made his remarks after the Pentagon in June received a EUCOM troop-to-task analysis formulated at Craddock’s request. The report has not been made public, and Pentagon officials have said that no decision had been reached on troop strength.

McKiernan’s statements were published Friday, the same day U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates arrived in Moscow. Relations between the two countries have worsened this year over a variety of issues.

McKiernan noted that despite tensions between the two countries, he wanted to keep U.S. troops in Germany, in part, to be more forward-deployed in the event of trouble, and in part to build relations with Russia’s military.

“I want to engage the Russian military; I want to train with the Russian military. I want to have personal contacts with their leaders ,” McKiernan said.

Currently, about 44,000 U.S. soldiers remain based in Europe. McKiernan said he believes the right number is 40,000.

Stars and Stripes reporter John Vandiver contributed to this report.

author picture
Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up