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ARLINGTON, Va. — The Defense Department cannot, as has been rumored, bring Europe-based military personnel deployed in Iraq straight back to the United States in 2004 because of the pending Base Realignment And Closure program, a senior defense official said Friday.

Any such return of Europe-based forces will likely not happen until 2006, the official said.

“BRAC makes it difficult to move your forces where you want them to go [in the United States], if you don’t want them overseas,” the official told Pentagon reporters Friday.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has called for a fifth BRAC round in order to jettison what he says is 20 percent in excess base capacity. Such a move would save the government about $6.5 billion annually, according to estimates the Pentagon gave Congress in January 2003.

Congress agreed last year to go through the painful process in 2005.

At the same time, Pentagon officials are involved in a Global Defense Posture Review of all overseas military facilities that could result in the shuttering of some long-established U.S. military bases in Europe and a return of their units to the United States.

“There might be countries we will pull all of our forces out of,” other countries where some forces will leave; and still others, “including some countries in the former Soviet bloc,” where the United States will establish new bases, the official said.

Europe-based military members who are in Iraq or soon to leave have expressed concern that the Pentagon will close their home bases while their units are still deployed, leaving their families to make the move back to the United States.

But the global review “is connected to BRAC,” the official said, because BRAC rules expressly prohibit any Pentagon or service action that would signal — intentionally or not — preference for any particular base.

“You cannot tip your hand” regarding favored bases, and BRAC won’t be finished until the end of 2005.

“So the first time we’ll have a really good feel [for the global reorganization plan] is 2006,” the official said.


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