Laying the groundwork for new positioning
In the weeks prior to President Bush’s proclamation that 70,000 U.S. troops would pull out of bases in places such as Germany and South Korea, American officials were quietly negotiating where to put new posts in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
The new bases would be closer to hot spots than current U.S. installations and would include skeletal positions with fluctuating troop numbers as well as permanent bases, according to Pentagon thinking. But they would also, according to a defense analyst and reports from Europe, include silos for a planned theater missile shield.
U.S. generals made two telling diplomatic visits last month.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, visited Bulgaria on July 29 and 30 to discuss “a wide variety of issues” with leaders there, including the possibility of stationing forces.
At the time, about 1,000 U.S. troops were at the Novo Selo Training Area in Bulgaria for a training exercise known as Bulwark ’04.
“We certainly did not make any decisions, but we had pretty extensive discussions on potential military basing here,” Myers said afterward, appearing with his Bulgarian counterpart, Gen. Nikola Ivanov Kolev.
“The United States is discussing its military posture around the world with many countries,” Myers said, according to a transcript. “Those consultations are ongoing. No decisions have been made yet, and all I will say is that the United States appreciates our partnership with Bulgaria.”
No further public announcements followed, according to Raissa Yordanova, a U.S. Embassy press official in Sofia.
Just before Myers visited Bulgaria, the head of U.S. Central Command, Gen. John P. Abizaid, visited Uzbekistan’s Defense Minister Kadyr Gulyamov and Foreign Minister Sadik Safaev on “issues of bilateral cooperation and regional security,” according to an embassy release.
Embassy spokesman Michael Reinert said that the United States had nothing public to say on new bases in Uzbekistan. But he added that both sides were happy with the Americans’ current use of an air base in Khanabad to support the mission in neighboring Afghanistan.
The recent visits follow months of talks between John R. Bolton, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, and officials in Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary. Bolton is reportedly pursuing missile silos and an additional radar site for a theater shield against attacks from the Middle East.
A Pentagon spokesman cautioned that no timetables or destinations for new bases have been announced. Nonetheless, analysts see a new defense topography emerging from the map.
Some new bases would be near or inside the Balkans yet closer to the Middle East, said Otfried Nassauer, director of the Berlin Information-center for Transatlantic Security. Nassauer said the new, smaller bases also could be used in case of an emergency in the Black Sea or Transcaucasus countries.
Nassauer said that he doubts Poland, the Czech Republic or Hungary would see huge troop deployments because they’re neither close enough to the Middle East when compared with Germany nor far enough from Russia to avoid angst.
“The disadvantages would be too big politically, and you couldn’t gain enough,” Nassauer said. “… It doesn’t make much sense.”
Instead, he predicts the missile shield would better fit places like Poland, the Czech Republic or Hungary, while more southerly Bulgaria and Romania could see greater troop numbers without threatening Russia.
Uzbekistan with its proximity to Afghanistan is also a logical place to expand, Nassauer said. Africa, U.S. officials have hinted, remains another option.
The Pentagon has said new bases would not serve as replacements for those lost in an exit of the 1st Armored Division and 1st Infantry Division from Germany. Instead, they would house lighter forces or serve as “lily pads” for soldiers to skip across en route to missions in places like the Middle East.
“Nobody intends to deploy an armored brigade somewhere in Africa,” Nassauer said.