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President Bush’s expected announcement this week of a major shift of troop strength in Europe and the Pacific might not come as much of a surprise at all to Pacific commanders.

News reports this weekend, including from The Washington Post, stated Bush would announce Monday that he plans to move up to 70,000 troops from Europe and Asia, reassigning most of them to the United States. About two-thirds of those to be moved would come from Europe, the newspaper reported, citing a senior aide involved in developing the plan — meaning a third of the total might be culled from Asia.

Bush wasn’t expected to make any such plans public until a speech Monday in election swing state Ohio; comment Sunday from U.S. military commanders in the Pacific was sparse to nonexistent.

But the Pentagon and White House have been talking for years about how best to array U.S. forces after the breakup of the Soviet Union, and to meet the demands of the war on terror. And the military has been talking openly in key spots in the Pacific about making major alterations to its troop strength and concentrations.

Administration officials have said for more than two years, the paper reported, that they plan to move 60,000 troops from Europe, mostly from Germany, and 30,000 from Asia, mostly from Japan and Korea.

However, Asian allies have indicated concern at any plans to withdraw troops; the U.S. official involved in the planning predicted any redeployments likely would entail lengthy negotiations with the countries now hosting the troops.

For instance, while military and diplomatic officials in South Korea could not be reached for comment Sunday, in recent months, several overtures regarding U.S. forces in South Korea have been made public. American officials have proposed removing around one-third of the 38,000 servicemembers in South Korea by the end of next year.

South Korean officials, wary the move would create the appearance of a “security vacuum,” have asked for the reduction to be postponed by one or two years.

The two sides will discuss the U.S. proposal in the next round of Future of the Alliance talks, scheduled for Aug. 19 in Seoul.

The U.S. also has deployed the 2nd Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division to Iraq, marking the first time troops have been pulled from South Korea and sent directly to another theater of war. In a statement announcing the troop reduction proposal, U.S. officials said the 3,600 troops sent to Iraq likely would be part of the 12,500 troops relocated out of South Korea.

On another front, the Pentagon is in the midst of shuffling U.S. bases around the Korean peninsula, closing some installations and consolidating others onto an expanded military hub in the Pyongtaek area.

Under that plan, Yongsan Garrison in Seoul is to be closed by the end of 2008, with all 7,000 troops currently assigned there to be moved further south.

On Okinawa, a Marine spokesman Sunday said he was not aware of any proposed cutbacks in the 17,000 Marines stationed on the Japanese island.

But troop strength on Okinawa may be affected another way. This week the USS Fort McHenry and USS Harpers Ferry, amphibious ships operating from Sasebo Naval Base in southern Japan, now are providing transportation to about 1,000 Hawaii-based Marines deployed to Okinawa for the training, who now have received orders for the Middle East.

It was the second such diversion. Earlier this year, some 300 Marines and sailors from U.S. bases, on Okinawa for six months of training under the Unit Deployment Program, were sent to Iraq along with associated aviation and support elements from other Okinawa-based units.

At the time, Lt. Gen. Robert R. Blackman Jr., commanding general of the III Marine Expeditionary Force and Marine Corps Bases Japan, said the redeployment of troops away from Okinawa was temporary and would not endanger East Asian stability.

Col. Victor Warzinski, a U.S. Forces Japan spokesman, said it’s unclear how many troops and which bases would be impacted by any proposed realignment — or when that might occur.

“It’s premature for us to talk about it,” he said Sunday. “We’ll see what the president has to say. As you know, we’ve been involved in fairly long discussions with the Japanese government, and those will continue.

“But I have no specifics on anything. Until the president actually steps out and speaks, no one will know for sure.”

Stripes reporter Joseph Giordono contributed to this report.


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