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Ashton B. Carter

WASHINGTON — Reducing the number of U.S. troops and bases located overseas is “on the table” as part of spending reduction talks, the Pentagon’s incoming No. 2 official told Congress on Tuesday.

During Undersecretary of Defense Ashton Carter’s confirmation hearing to be the next deputy secretary of defense, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said Congress must look at relocating some of the more than 300,000 troops stationed overseas, not including war zones, and closing some of the nearly 700 overseas bases, installations and other DOD sites.

“Is that on the table?” Levin asked.

“On the table,” Carter responded.

Levin also warned that the “massive” Pacific realignment plan that includes moving 8,000 U.S. Marines and their families from Okinawa to Guam “cannot continue,” after ballooning to a projected cost of $27 billion.

“Surely we can’t do that until we have a reliable cost and schedule data,” Levin said. “Now we may not be able to get that data in time for this [budget] review.”

Levin and Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va. visited the region in May and returned demanding the Pentagon reconsider the entire Pacific realignment, which Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., backed. In June, the panel’s Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support approved a measure that would bar any spending in the coming year for the Pacific realignment until the Defense Department conducts a new study to justify the costs.

The Government Accountability Office that month estimated the required Guam infrastructure buildup would cost $24 billion. The U.S. could foot at least $15 billion of that amount in the next five years, plus an unspecified amount of additional funds expected for Guam’s missile defense.

U.S. and Japanese officials meeting in Washington in June also said that both countries remained committed to relocate Marine Corps Air Station Futenma on Okinawa, but were now looking at a date beyond the original 2014 deadline. That piece of the realignment plan has proven especially contentious in Japan, frequently surfacing in local and national political debates.

Pentagon officials are continuously saying that everything is on the table for budget cutting consideration this fall. A spokesman for the Joint Staff said on Tuesday the group has no specific efforts underway to look into re-stationing overseas troops or closing overseas bases, and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and former Secretary Robert Gates have tended to dismiss talk of considering fewer bases and troops overseas.

Twitter: @StripesBaron

Twitter: @ChrisCarroll_


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