Pentagon denies Los Angeles Times report thatU.S. troops moving to Vietnam and Malaysia
ARLINGTON, Va. — While the Pentagon is moving forward with plans to rejigger the force structure in the Pacific, specifics are far from decided, Pentagon officials said Thursday.
An article in Thursday’s Los Angeles Times quoted unnamed senior officials as saying that an Asian reorganization “may include moving Marines out of Japan and establishing a network of small bases in countries such as Australia, Singapore and Malaysia.”
But while a broad reorganization is under way, the specifics regarding numbers and places for potential moves are “largely incorrect and inaccurate,” according to Pentagon spokeswoman Navy Chief Petty Officer Diane Perry.
“We think about a lot of things,” Perry said Thursday. But while “there are lots of ideas out there, there are no plans as of yet,” she said.
Negotiating new permanent bases in Asia will be an enormously complex and time-consuming task. Americans will negotiate a landscape plagued by anti-U.S. sentiments and difficult governments.
According to the L.A. Times article, “under plans on the table, all but about 5,000 of the Marines [on Okinawa] would move, possibly to Australia.
“The 24,000 or so U.S. troops based with their families elsewhere in Japan would remain where they were,” the article said.
But “the statement about moving Marines to Australia is inaccurate,” Perry said.
While Australia may be under consideration as a possible location for U.S. troops, “no one is talking about numbers, at all,” she said.
In fact, only last week, Australia’s prime minister, John Howard, denied reports that the Pentagon had asked to base troops and aircraft in that nation, according to the Australian Associated Press.
The newspaper The Australian reported Thursday that U.S. military officials had informally asked to base up to 5,000 troops and F-16 fighters there.
However, Prime Minister John Howard labeled the report speculation and said, “There has been absolutely no approach made to me or the defense minister about that matter.”
A U.S. embassy spokesman in Canberra also denied knowledge of such plans.
“There is no plan to base U.S. forces in Australia, nor have U.S. officials made any request to the government of Australia on the subject” he told AAP.
The Australian reported the move was part of a plan to combat terrorism in Southeast Asia, especially Islamic extremists in Indonesia.
The Times article also reported that the Pentagon is talking to Philippine officials about a permanent presence for ground troops in the Philippines, an assertion Perry flatly denied.
“There are no plans to place permanent ground troops in the Philippines,” she said.
Since 1990, when Manila declined to renew the Military Bases Agreement of 1947 and the U.S. lost access to Subic Naval Base, national security analysts have kicked around the advantages of regaining the site.
But there is a significant anti-U.S. sentiment in the Philippines, including a vocal and effective block in its Congress that has made it difficult for the Pentagon even to bring in troops on a temporary basis to train Philippine forces to fight terrorism.
“We’re still agreeing to agree to discuss” the next wave of trainers coming into the Philippines, Perry said. “To think that we’re at the point of talking about [basing] permanent U.S. troops [in the Philippines] is absurd.”
Perry expressed concern that articles raising the idea could prompt an outcry in the Philippines.
U.S. troops on Philippine soil, in any numbers and for any reason, “is a very, very sensitive point” with the people of that nation, she said.
The Times reported that officials are “seeking agreements to base Navy ships in Vietnamese waters,” a concept that has been floated ever since the United States normalized relations with Vietnam in 1995.
The U.S. interest lies with a former Soviet naval base at Cam Ranh Bay, a port in the southern province of Khanh Hoa that offers strategic access to sea lanes in the South China Sea.
Russia had a rent-free agreement for the base that ran from 1979 to 2002, when Moscow pulled out. In the mid-1990s, the Clinton administration suggested an open port arrangement that would allow warships of all nations to make calls at Cam Ranh, to no avail.
Although the Times mentions Vietnam as among the countries that are “openly seeking a U.S. military presence and the security and economic benefits that American bases could bring,” in April 2002 Radio Australia News reported that Hanoi officials said the government has no intention of allowing another country to use Cam Ranh Bay.
Even if the Vietnamese government has changed its mind and is now courting the United States military, any agreement between Washington and Hanoi — one of the last Communist governments in the world — would be difficult to negotiate.
In a Jan. 21 speech to the Asia society in Washington, U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Raymond F. Burghardt noted that the two one-time foes “don’t have much of a military-to-military relationship, for obvious historical reasons.”
Malaysia is another country mentioned in the article as a place where Pentagon officials are considering “increasing the presence of U.S. troops.”
U.S. military ties with Malaysia are fairly strong, especially since the beginning of the war on terror.
But behind the recent cooperation is a history of tension between Washington and Malaysia regarding human rights issues.