Wednesday, January 4, 2012

As budget cuts loom, questions arise about U.S. forces in Europe

When a task force of Marines deployed to eastern Europe on a five-month mission to train partner militaries, it did not come from U.S. bases in nearby Germany. The 185 reservists flew over from a base in the States.

Parterships with nations from the Baltics to the Balkans have been a cornerstone of the mission of U.S. forces in Europe since the end of the Cold War, but such training increasingly is conducted by troops who fly in from the U.S. for short, targeted missions. As questions arise about the need to maintain a large U.S. presence in Europe, some in the military are suggesting this U.S.-based model could be a more cost-effective way to maintain ties with allies who rely on U.S. leadership.

The U.S. has been restructuring its Europe-based force since the end of the Cold War, when there were about 300,000 U.S. troops in Europe. There are about 80,000 today, and the drawdown continues with at least one brigade scheduled to return to the States by 2015, though military leaders hint it could leave much sooner.

With massive budget cuts looming, the withdrawal of the last U.S. troops from Iraq and a drawdown of U.S. combat troops from Afghanistan slated to be completed by 2014, military leaders are re-evaluating the scope and focus of the military, and that is raising questions about how large a force is needed in Europe and where it should be located