WASHINGTON – President Bush on Monday announced massive troop realignments, marking the most comprehensive restructuring since the Korean War (search).
"We have to make sure forces are well prepared and positioned to meet the threats of the future," the commander-in-chief said during a speech at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Cincinnati. "The world has changed a great deal and our posture must change with it for the sake of our military families, for the sake of our taxpayers and so we can be more effective at projecting our strength and spreading freedom and peace."
Over the next 10 years, Bush's plan will affect 60,000 to 70,000 or more uniformed military personnel plus 100,000 of their family members and support personnel.
U.S. armed forces stationed abroad in places other than Iraq and Afghanistan number about 200,000. About half are in Europe. The changes would not affect the more than 150,000 U.S. troops involved in or supporting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Saying the armed forces abroad have pretty much stayed where old wars have ended in Europe and Asia to protect from Soviet aggression where "the threat no longer exists," Bush said a three-year review of the country's military concluded that the new plan would have multiple benefits, including allowing the United States to deal with "unexpected threats" with the latest technologies on little notice.
"Over the coming decade, we'll deploy a more agile and more flexible force, which means that more of our troops will be stationed and deployed from here at home," the president said. "The new plan will help us fight and win these wars of the 21st century. It will strengthen our alliances around the world … it will reduce the stress on our troops and our military families."
Pentagon officials said Monday the 1st Armored Division and 1st Infantry Division (search) probably won't start leaving their bases in Germany until 2006 at the earliest. They will be replaced by a brigade -- a much smaller unit -- equipped with Stryker armored vehicles, which are much lighter and quicker than the M1A1 Abrams tanks used by the divisions they will replace.
The more than 70,000 U.S. troops in Germany are a legacy of the Cold War, when they faced off with forces of the former Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact. Each division has about 10,000 to 15,000 soldiers.
The United States will close nearly half of its hundreds of installations in Europe as part of the massive restructuring plan, three senior defense officials and a State Department official told Pentagon reporters.
Pentagon and State Department officials said negotiations with U.S. allies continue. Particularly sensitive are talks involving Japan, which hosts more than 40,000 U.S. troops, and South Korea, where officials say about one-third of the 37,000 U.S. troops stationed there will be leaving in coming years.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld briefed his Russian counterpart, Sergei Ivanov, over the weekend during a visit to St. Petersburg.
Many troop units now based in Europe could be moved further east, into new NATO member countries such as Poland, Bulgaria and possibly Turkey, while many other forces could be repositioned around Asia, and some other brought home.
Administration officials have insisted that this shift is not due to troops being stretched too thin fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq but rather.
Bush: 'We Will Stay Until the Job Is Completed'
Bush's speech comes as the U.S. death toll in Iraq is approaching 1,000 and National Guard and Reserve troops are serving extended tours of duty.
Aides to Democratic challenger John Kerry (search) blamed a lack of postwar planning by the Bush administration for the increased burden the reservists are shouldering. They also noted that the Massachusetts senator has proposed adding 40,000 troops to the regular Army and expanding special operations forces.
Kerry has said he would try to withdraw some troops from Iraq during his first six months in office.
"I think that sends the wrong signal — I think it sends the wrong message to our enemy, who can wait six months and one day [to attack], it sends the wrong message to our troops that we won't complete the mission," Bush said in his speech Monday. "Our friends and allies must know that when America speaks, we mean what we say: we will stay until the job is completed."
Bush also took a pointed shot at both Kerry and Edwards. The president argued that over the past four years, his administration has enacted the largest increase in defense spending since the Reagan era, increased military pay by 21 percent, provided better housing, training and maintenance for the military. In the supplemental budget request sent to Congress last September, Bush added, he proposed more money for body armor, hazard pay, health benefits, fuel, ammunition, spare parts and other items.
Twelve senators voted against the legislation, "two of whom were my opponent and his running mate," Bush said.
Taking another swipe at Kerry, Bush noted that the senator has said while he voted in favor of the $87 war funding package earlier in the year, his vote against the supplemental was a "complicated matter."
"There's nothing complicated about supporting our troops in combat," Bush countered.
Honoring the Nation's Vets
Bush also vowed that his administration would further help the nation's veterans who fought in various wars overseas throughout the years. Kerry has used his veteran status much on the campaign trail and is trying to round up most of the veteran vote.
"Our nation's veterans have made serving America the highest priority of their lives and serving our veterans is one of the highest priorities of my administration," Bush said, pointing out that so far, his administration has "a solid record of accomplishment for our veterans."
If Bush's proposed 2005 budget passes Congress, it would increase overall funding for veterans by almost $20 billion — a 40 percent increase since 2001.
"We have increased funding for our veterans more in four years than the previous administration did in eight years," Bush said.
Veterans' medical funding has increased by 41 percent over the past four years; since 2001, the government has enrolled 2.5 million more veterans in health-care services, increased outpatient visits from 44 million to 54 million and increased the number of prescriptions filled for this demographic from 98 million to 116 million. The backlog of disability claims has been reduced by about one-third, Bush said, and the processing time has been cut by 70 days.
"We're getting the job done," Bush said.
Kerry will address the VFW convention on Wednesday. Secretary of State Colin Powell, himself a veteran, is slated to speak to the group Monday night and receive the Americanism Award.
Later Monday, Bush travels to a campaign rally in northern Michigan, a state he lost to Gore. Bush's visit to Traverse City, Mich., will be first by a sitting president since Gerald Ford in 1975.
FOX News' Bret Baier, Ian McCaleb, Liza Porteus and The Associated Press contributed to this report.