European edition, Sunday, June 17, 2007

Some powerful men have begun to question — or at least voice concerns about — the scope and pace of the drawdown of U.S. forces in Europe.

This spring, Army Gen. Bantz J. Craddock, the military commander of NATO and the U.S. European Command, announced he was going to take a look at military transformation. Three weeks ago, a report, called a troop-to-task analysis, landed on Craddock’s desk for review. The report, which assesses whether there are enough troops to effectively fulfill the mission requirements of the U.S. European Command, is expected to be forwarded to Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“The question is one of capacity,” Craddock told the House Armed Services Committee in March. “If something else arises and the forces assigned to European Command are engaged in those missions (in Iraq and Afghanistan), then I would have to go back to the chairman with a request for (more) forces.”

Craddock’s statements echo those of his predecessor, Marine Gen. James L. Jones, who suggested as far back as December that troop cuts in Europe, particularly with respect to the Army, may be going too far.

There are benefits to the transformation of overseas forces, Jones said on C-Span’s “Newsmakers” show. But, he cautioned, the U.S. shouldn’t “withdraw forces too much from any particular area in the world, especially because once you do that, it’s going to be hard to come back.”

“As I left Europe, in my last report, I expressed some concern that the size of the U.S. Army in Europe had — we had perhaps gone too low,” Jones said. “And I think that there is still time because we have not pulled all the troops out (that are supposed to go). There is time to take another look at that.”

Whether a review of military transformation in Europe leads to an overhaul of the plan or just a tweak remains to be seen. But the fact is much has changed in the five years since military planners in Stuttgart crafted a theater strategy for transforming EUCOM into a leaner, more modular, expeditionary force.

Back in 2002, pacifying Afghanistan — and later Iraq — didn’t seem all that daunting a task. Also, the Army wasn’t planning to add 65,000 soldiers to the rolls as announced this spring, Donald Rumsfeld led the Defense Department, and the Republicans controlled Congress.

Since then, about 17,000 servicemembers have departed Europe — or will shortly — leaving behind dozens of installations, from Leighton Barracks and Rhein-Main Air Base in Germany to Naval Air Station Keflavik in Iceland.

And more cuts are in the cards, steps that will trim the total force to about 60,000 by 2015, if not before, according to the current plan.

However, military transformation in Europe goes beyond people and property. Ultimately, it represents a fundamental shift away from a relatively static Cold War stance to a rapid, more nimble and interchangeable force capable of handling future challenges, in particular, the war on terrorism.

Within in the Army, for example, it’s about moving from a division-centric force to one where brigade combat teams are the norm.

“Transformation occurs between the ears,” said Army Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling, commander of the 1st Armored Division. “It doesn’t occur at what base you’re sitting on or what piece of equipment you’re working with.”

But with any plan, there are often adjustments that need to be made as the process unfolds. And by all indications, given the protracted conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the troop increase, a new secretary of defense and the shifting political scene back home, the review by Craddock and his staff won’t be perfunctory or half-hearted. Way too much is at stake.

“My concern is this: that what we do, essentially, in our active strategy, is we try to shape the environment for the future,” Craddock said at the committee hearing.

“And that’s by engagement, that’s by theater security cooperation — not assistance,” Craddock said. “We send our forces and they cooperate and train and exercise with partner nations. Our ability to do that now is limited because we don’t have the forces available.”

Five years ago, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld sent marching orders to Marine Gen. James L. Jones, telling him that the U.S. European Command needed an overhaul.

In an open letter to servicemembers, civilians and family members in Europe, Jones wrote, “The European Command is embarking on a journey to transform from our current post-Cold War force structure and basing environment to one that is positioned to meet the unique challenges of the 21st century.”

That plan, started in 2002, called for the moving of thousands of troops from Europe back to the United States. It also had provisions for moving troops into Eastern Europe and setting up forward operating sites in Africa.

But now, Jones’ successor, Army Gen. Bantz J. Craddock, is questioning whether pulling troops out of Europe during this time of war is a prudent measure.

Over the next several days, Stars and Stripes will review the status of the military’s transformation in Europe in a series of stories that look at the past, present and future. It’s an opportunity to revisit the issues and challenges associated with the changes currently afoot, from the development of Stryker brigades and brigade combat teams to base closures and unit realignments. The vast undertaking involves not only remaking, but redefining, the U.S. military.The stories:TODAY: EUCOM leaders address transformation issuesDAY 2: A look at troop strength through the yearsDAY 3: How the military closes its basesDAY 4: Stateside bases get ready for influx of troopsDAY 5: Air Force, Navy also getting new lookDAY 6: The impact of politics on transformationGraphic:The changing face of Germany(Click here to enlarge)

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