CASTEAU, Belgium – U.S. troops could start moving from Cold War (search)-era posts in Germany to new bases in Romania and Bulgaria this year as part of American efforts to create a more mobile overseas force, the top U.S. commander in Europe said Friday.
Marine Gen. James L. Jones said the United States was looking at up to five facilities in each country for use by Army, Air Force, Navy or Marine units.
"This is part and parcel of the transformation of our footprint in Europe, which has been in need of surgery for some time," he told reporters at NATO (search) military headquarters in southern Belgium after a trip to Romania and Bulgaria.
Plans for the bases are expected to be drawn up soon, and Jones said the move could start quickly if Congress and the two countries go along.
"There's no reason why we could not start with deployment this year," said the general, also NATO's top operational commander.
The move east is part of an overhaul announced by President Bush last year that aims to withdraw 70,000 troops and 100,000 family members from bases in Germany and South Korea.
Under the plans, the United States would move away from many of its big, permanent bases where troops are stationed long-term with families and large back-up infrastructures. Instead, it would use smaller, more austere facilities where troops would rotate in for shorter deployments.
"These are purely military sites without family, without infrastructure changes," Jones said. "We're not talking about rebuilding Ramstein," he said in a reference to the sprawling U.S. base in western Germany.
The Pentagon says a network of smaller bases spread around the world will provide more flexibility in dealing with terrorism, regional crises and other emerging threats.
Romania and Bulgaria, which joined NATO in April, are considered particularly suited to new U.S. bases because of their proximity to volatile regions in the Balkans, Caucasus and Middle East. They also have Soviet-era facilities that could be adapted for American use, and both countries are keen to host U.S. troops.
Jones said the United States has sought to calm Russian concerns about any eastern movement of U.S. forces. "We've kept our Russian friends fully apprised of our intentions," he said. "That has had a reassuring effect."