Four combat brigades to stay in Europe

A 172nd Infantry Brigade soldier scans for trouble during training at Grafenwšhr, Germany, in 2008. The Defense Department has decided to keep four brigade combat teams in Europe, according to the Quadrennial Defense Review released on Monday. The DOD also will keep an Army corps headquarters on the continent. The 172nd had been slated to move back to the United States.



GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — The Department of Defense has backed a call by the U.S. Army Europe commander to retain four brigade combat teams in Europe.

The DOD’s Quadrennial Defense Review, released Monday, states “the United States will retain four brigade combat teams and an Army Corps headquarters forward-stationed on the continent.”

The brigades will remain in Europe pending a DOD review of NATO’s Strategic Concept and an accompanying U.S. assessment of its European defense posture network, the QDR states.

NATO spokesman Robert Pszczel said Tuesday that the Strategic Concept –— scheduled to be agreed upon at the NATO Summit in Portugal in November — sets out the security environment and outlines key tasks of the alliance in years ahead.

Two of the four Europe-based brigade combat teams — the 170th Infantry Brigade in Baumholder, Germany, and the 172nd Infantry Brigade from Grafenwöhr, Germany — had been slated to return to the U.S. in 2012. But USAREUR commander Gen. Carter Ham last year recommended to the U.S. European Command that those BCTs remain in Germany indefinitely.

“The two primary issues for me are to have sufficient ground forces to enable us to meet not only our current operational requirements, principally to the [U.S. Central Command] region, but also to maintain the ability to stay engaged and exercise with our European allies,” Ham said last February.

U.S. units in Europe conduct regular training with European militaries, many of which operate alongside U.S. forces in Afghanistan as part of the International Security Assistance Force. The Pentagon is spending more than $100 million to build new military bases in Bulgaria and Romania, where more than 2,000 troops, including two squadrons from the 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, trained last summer.

In the QDR, the DOD noted that “a robust U.S. military presence in Europe serves to deter the political intimidation of allies and partners.”

That presence, the review continues, promotes stability in the Aegean, Balkans, Caucasus and Black Sea regions, and demonstrates the U.S. commitment to NATO allies.

In a statement issued Tuesday, USAREUR spokesman Bruce Anderson said the QDR reaffirms that a strong trans-Atlantic partnership and bilateral relationships with European governments are central to the security of the U.S.

In addition to working with their European neighbors, the Army’s Europe-based brigades also have deployed multiple times to Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years. The Airborne Brigade Combat Team out of Vicenza, Italy, recently deployed to Afghanistan, while the Vilseck, Germany-based 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment is preparing to head there in summer.

The QDR also called for the deployment of a revised U.S. missile defense system in Europe and an enhanced naval presence in the region.

The beefed-up Navy presence in Europe has already started.

In early January, the Navy sent the USS Ramage — a guided-missile destroyer — on a six-month deployment to the Mediterranean Sea, as part of a U.S. military build-up of missile-defense systems in the region. The U.S. positioned eight Patriot missile batteries in the Middle East and Aegis ballistic missile cruisers in the Persian Gulf, Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. Central Command leader, told the Institute for the Study of War on Jan. 22.

The key U.S. allies of United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait are the four countries receiving the anti-missile defense systems, according to The Washington Post.

But posting a ship in the Mediterranean is “something new for the Navy,” said John Pike, director of globalsecurity.org.

The increased presence of missile-defense ships in Europe, as outlined in the QDR, offers the U.S. military an advantage over land-based systems: the flexibility to position systems where needed in order to meet threats, Pike said. Not to mention the avoidance of a diplomatic wrangling with other nations in order to put Patriot missile batteries on foreign soil, he suggested.

U.S. sea-based ballistic missile defense in Europe offers protection not just to Israel, but to the ally of Egypt as well, Pike said.

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