Pentagon Plan to Pull Troops Laced With Uncertainty

Editor's note: This is the first of a two-part series on the Pentagon's plan to withdraw troops from stations abroad.

A massive troop realignment plan set for implementation next year was needed long before Donald Rumsfeld called for updating the Pentagon, the defense secretary told Congress last week.

The current deployment of troops around the world was logical in an era of "static deterrence," Rumsfeld testified on Thursday. But since that era's demise, the United States' national security needs have changed drastically.

"We are still situated in large part as if little has changed for the last 50 years," Rumsfeld said.

Rumsfeld laid out the argument for the most comprehensive remapping of U.S. forces since the end of the Korean War (search), but offered few concrete details of the reposturing, which he has lobbied to implement since President Bush took office. The plan, outlined by Bush in August, has raised eyebrows for its timing so close to the election.

The Bush administration has said that bringing home 70,000 of the 230,000 troops permanently stationed abroad over the next 10 years would save taxpayers money. But some defense experts warn that dismantling two large Army divisions in Germany and their attendant infrastructure would be costly, especially with U.S. military operations in the Middle East expected to continue for the next several years.

"It's not going to be less expensive or easier to deploy from the United States than it would be from our bases in Europe or in Asia," former Defense Secretary William Cohen told Voice of America (search) in August.

Lawrence J. Korb, assistant secretary of defense under President Ronald Reagan, went a step further, saying the Pentagon's plan would do little to alleviate overstretched forces in Iraq (search) and Afghanistan (search).

"It won't solve the immediate problem, which is overextended ground forces," he told, adding that it would be impossible to secure Iraq without increasing troop strength. "It's not going to add more flexibility or get people to spend more time at home with their families or save money."

An independent panel commissioned by the Pentagon agreed that the 155,000 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are insufficient to sustain long-term military operations in those countries, the New York Times reported last week.

But on the economic front, proponents of the plan say bringing many troops and their families home would likely provide boosts, at least on the local level. Democratic state Sen. Eliot Shapleigh told the El Paso Times in late August that Fort Bliss (search) stood to gain as many as 10,000 troops over the next several years, though in a recent visit there Rumsfeld would not confirm any pending gains or losses to the base.

Any gains from the realignment plan, however, could be offset by the Defense Department's 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (search) process, which is expected to save the government billions of dollars at the expense of thousands of jobs.

Still, some analysts wonder if Washington shouldn't focus on the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan before they schedule any base realignments. John Pike, a defense analyst for, said that adding troops in Iraq and Afghanistan was probably more important than reconfiguring the military's global defense posture.

"The argument against increasing troop strength used to be that the war would be over before it took effect, but that is no longer the case," Pike said, predicting that America's engagement in Iraq would "probably last 40 months."

Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., who served in the Army and is an outspoken proponent for expanding the military, also had Iraq in mind when criticizing the plan.

"It's like moving deck chairs around the deck. If you've got 10 chairs and 30 people to sit down, you're left with people standing," he told

But the president's promise that the plan will give military families more stability seems more likely to deliver, said one family advocate.

"One thing a lot of folks don't realize is we have service members assigned to Germany who are there with their families for a three-year tour, but they are being deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan," said Joyce Raezer, director of government relations at the nonpartisan National Military Family Association (search).

"It's much more difficult for that family member to find support and deal with the deployment when you're so far from home," she told

Raezer added that since the Iraq war, security for Americans living abroad is more of a concern, making the experience for military families less enjoyable. Establishing more bases in the United States would also solve other issues such as children's education and spouses' careers.

"Having the family stay in one location supports these very important quality-of-life issues," Raezer said.

The decision to swap out installation-heavy bases for fleet-footed units to better face the more scattered, fluid faces of terrorism was made before the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, Pentagon spokesman Major Paul Swiergosz told But the attacks were the impetus in the drive to overhaul the nation's Cold War (search)-era defense posture, he said.

President Bush cited the War on Terror (search) when he announced the realignment plan on Aug. 16.

"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," Bush told the Veterans of Foreign Wars (search) Convention in Cincinnati. "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."

A post-Cold War realignment has been called for by military figures of all political stripes for some time, but in an election year the wisdom of the Pentagon's plan has become a point of contention. Days after Bush's announcement, Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry (search), in his own speech to the VFW, assailed the realignment as "clearly the wrong signal to send at the wrong time."

"Why are we unilaterally withdrawing 12,000 troops from the Korean Peninsula at the very time we are negotiating with North Korea — a country that really has nuclear weapons?" Kerry asked on Aug. 18.

The partial pullout from the Demilitarized Zone (search) –– designed to better position American forces in a conflict with North Korea by keeping them far from first-shot range — is slated for completion by 2005. But the rising menace of a nuclear-armed North Korea has Seoul scrambling for time to beef up its defenses.

Indeed, shortly after the president's announcement, a nervous South Korea asked Washington to wait at least a year before withdrawing 12,500 of its 37,000 troops stationed there.

And though the military overhaul had been in the works for years, grumblings could also be heard in Germany, the other country most affected by the Pentagon's plan. Already struggling with a costly reunification after the demise of the Berlin Wall, the country's business community bemoaned the pending absence of the 1st Armored Division and the 1st Infantry Division.

But U.S. officials said troop levels in Europe would not be greatly diminished. While permanently stationed military and civilian personnel, along with their families, would be brought back to the United States over the next 10 years, lighter and more mobile forces would take their place in Germany and in the East. Moreover, the massive Ramstein (search) Air Base, which serves as an important hub for forces serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, may even grow in personnel size, they said.