US delays troop drawdown in Europe
( AFP ) - Defense Secretary Robert Gates agreed to delay a drawdown of US troop levels in Europe, the Pentagon said Wednesday, following requests from commanders to maintain its military personnel levels there at around 40,000.
Two brigades had been due to come back to the United States, but the decision has been made that they "will remain in Europe within EUCOM (US Europe Command) for a couple of more years," Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told reporters.
"That is a temporary delay, nothing permanent," he stressed.
The army's Vice Chief of Staff Richard Cody said the US would retain "two heavy brigade combat teams" in Germany "to meet the near-term theater security requirements."
These brigades will later be returned to the United States by 2013, he said.
With his decision, Gates has in part given in to demands from top US commanders in Europe to halt the drawdown of US troops in Europe begun two years ago.
At that stage, there were 62,000 US troops in Europe. Under a withdrawal plan drawn up by Gates' predecessor Donald Rumsfeld, US troop levels by the end of 2008 were to have dropped to 24,000.
However, generals Bantz Craddock, Commander of US European command, and David McKiernan, top US Army commander in Europe, asked that US forces be maintained at a level including the current four combat brigades, citing budgetary as well as strategic reasons.
Morrell recently said that maintaining US troop levels in Europe would tell the rest of the world that the United States remained globally engaged, especially with its allies, despite the ongoing military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In addition, military lodgings for thousands of US troops are lacking, and it would cost the Army millions of dollars to find temporary housing for the returning soldiers and their families.