Rumsfeld: Time line for BRAC must stay in place
WASHINGTON — The two Pentagon plans of repositioning overseas troops to U.S. bases and the next round of likely base closures go hand-in-hand and must stay on the current time line in order for either to work, Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Thursday during a congressional hearing.
When asked by Sen. John Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, whether he’d support a delay, Rumsfeld said: “It would be most unfortunate for any delay in BRAC, which would delay forces being returned to the United States,” Rumsfeld said of the Base Realignment and Closure process.
Warner concurred, saying during his opening remarks that it is “imperative that we stay on that same timetable.”
Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has said he would delay the base closure process if elected.
“I’ve called for is to stop the BRAC [Base Realignment And Closure] process temporarily. I wanna make certain that we are re-evaluating precisely what America’s military needs are in this new structure,” Kerry told Stripes on Aug. 6.
Last month, President Bush announced a broad plan to shift, over the next 10 years, some 70,000 troops and 100,000 family members and civilian employees from overseas to stateside installations. With that repositioning, the military intends to shut down 200, or some 35 percent, of its overseas installations and facilities, from major bases to a plot of land with a radio antenna on it, Rumsfeld said.
The senators were given detailed plans of the Pentagon’s three-year plan, listing several options of troop movements, plans that contained exact numbers of troops to be returned and where Pentagon officials would like to place them. The plans are classified.
Returning troops will need a place to go, Rumsfeld said, stressing the importance of keeping the BRAC process on schedule so that it does not delay the posturing plans.
Instead of maintaining Cold War-era bases in Western European countries, the military wants to shift to “warm bases,” for example, in cooperative Middle East countries — erecting bare-bones facilities to where troops can deploy to fight contingencies and then leave when no longer needed, he said. More rudimentary facilities can be built in African countries, which also can be used for training.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., and others expressed concerns of reducing U.S. forces in South Korea by about 12,500. “When North Korea … seems to be in an aggressive and unpredictable situation, why would we not have those concerns?” Lieberman asked Army Gen. Leon LaPorte, commander of U.S. Forces Korea.
“Why would we not be worried that we have 12,500 fewer troops on the ground?”
That’s because numbers doesn’t equal capability, said LaPorte, who testified at the hearing with fellow combatant commanders Gen. James Jones from European Command, and Adm. Thomas Fargo, Pacific Command. Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also testified.
Not only has the United States boosted its capabilities to defend the peninsula through high-tech equipment, but also some tend to underestimate the effectiveness of the South Korean army, he said.