STUTTGART, Germany — The U.S. European Command in the past year “rediscovered itself” as NATO alliances changed, its commander said this week. And in the upcoming year EUCOM could see itself more involved in the war on terrorism.
Still, according to the EUCOM commander, Marine Gen. James Jones, transformation will probably top the command’s agenda.
Jones said Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld is “pleased” with the EUCOM transformation plan, but it is still unknown when the plan will be implemented and how much of it will become reality. The draft has not been released publicly.
Jones and his team submitted to Rumsfeld the third of three plans they created. The process took about four months, he said.
Jones cautioned that his draft is a “military plan, submitted without any political judgment made on top of it.”
In an interview this week with Stars and Stripes, Jones also said:
• He believes that by 2004 the United States will be out of Bosnia and Herzegovina militarily, although there could still be “policing” activities; a similar scenario could occur in Kosovo, too. Jones said it’s “nice to see a mission come to an end, even if it takes a long time.”• The 173rd Airborne had been traditionally EUCOM’s quick-reaction force but because it remains deployed in Iraq, Marine Expeditionary units floating in the Mediterranean will now fill that role.• The command will probably see a growing role in the war against terrorism in the Africa portion of the command’s 93-country area of responsibility.• No Europe-based unit deployed to Iraq or the Middle East will be sent directly back to the United States as the result of transformation.• Urban growth and the lack of adequate training grounds have forced EUCOM to look outside its current basing structure for new areas to hone their skills.
Jones foresees Africa as the next battleground in the war on terrorism.
“As the noose tightens a little bit in the war on terror, Africa becomes a haven,” he said.
Already existing in Africa are markets for the weapons used by terrorists, and Africa also is used for the narcotics trafficking that funds terrorism, he said.
The area’s poor economic growth has created a recruiting ground for radical fundamentalists, he said. EUCOM, through Operation Active Endeavor, has already been working that prong of the terrorism war.
The command is using the Sixth Fleet, in tandem with NATO forces, to provide security for ships as they patrol the Mediterranean.
As a result, illegal immigration in the western Mediterranean has dropped 50 percent and commercial insurance for ships has dropped 20 percent in recent months.
“They are very risky places for smugglers and trafficking. ... It is the safest it has been for some time for the shipping lanes,” he said.
Operation Active Endeavor has been one of the lesser-known roles of EUCOM in the war on terror.
The command is also providing transportation and logistics help to countries such as Poland, Hungary, Spain and others who are aiding the United States in Iraq. Command officials also were the liaisons with Turkish officials and helped create the “air bridge” that got U.S. troops into northern Iraq.
Jones said despite political tensions between U.S. and foreign leaders, there has never been that sort of split between military leaders at NATO. The alliance, especially with the start next month of a NATO Response Force, is following a similar track to the United States’ own transformation plan.
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the alliance had found itself in a vacuum, Jones said, but NATO is now transforming itself and “becoming more relevant to the asymmetrical threat of the 21st century.”
As NATO expands to the east and adds countries from the former Soviet bloc to its alliance, the United States is forging ties in that direction. Jones rattled off Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Poland and Croatia when talking about countries wanting to forge stronger ties with the U.S. military. He said those countries are interested in developing all-volunteer militaries, increasing the role of noncommissioned officers and teaching their junior officers.
At the same time those countries provide U.S. forces with training opportunities that are no longer available in Western Europe because of urbanization.
“You really need more open spaces,” he said, noting that the same problems the United States has had with training at Camp Pendleton, Calif., or with Navy firing ranges in Puerto Rico are a reality in Europe, too.
Exactly when EUCOM shifts toward Eastern Europe, though, is a question mark. Jones concedes he does not know how much of his draft plan will become reality.
“It’s a plan, in a sense, that is timeless. Nothing has to be done now or next year. You can do it piecemeal, all at once ... any number of ways,” he said.
The plan must be explained to both the American military and its allies, he said. What does happen, he cautioned, will be done with the “full attention to the quality of life of our families.”
If people return to the United States, they will move back to bases with housing that accommodates them.
“There is some talk about an Army division never coming back here [to Germany] and going directly back to some unspecified location in the States. That’s simply not going to happen,” he said. “The warriors in Iraq will come back and be reunited with their loved ones. It will be done in a deliberate way that treats the servicemember with the dignity they deserve.”