WASHINGTON — The United States plans to withdraw about 7,000 US troops of the 81,000 troops based in Europe, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said.
In an interview with the Armed Forces Press Service, Panetta said two brigade combat teams, or roughly 7,000 US troops, would be withdrawn from Europe, but rotational units would still maintain strong military presence in the region.
“The Secretary and other senior Department officials have consulted closely with our European allies on our new strategic guidance,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said in an email.
“Our security commitments to Europe and to NATO are unwavering,” he added.
The move is part of a 10-year defense strategy that President Barack Obama presented on January 5, giving strategic priority to the Asia-Pacific and Middle East regions.
“We will continue to maintain our presence both in the Middle East and Asia,” Panetta said, according to the Armed Forces Press Service, an in-house Defense Department news service.
“Yes, we’ll have the Navy and the Air Force, but in my experience, in any conflict you need to have the potential use of ground forces.”
Each combat brigade consists of around 3,500 troops. According to Pentagon figures, there were 81,000 US troops based in Europe as of late last year.
Obama unveiled the new military strategy earlier this month for a leaner US military focused on countering China’s rising power and signaling a shift away from large ground wars against insurgents.
The plan calls for preparing for possible challenges from Iran and China, emphasizing air and naval power, while discounting future long-term, counter-insurgency campaigns like those conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The “defense strategic review” sets out an approach for the US military in a looming era of austerity, as Obama’s administration prepares for $487 billion in defense cuts over the next 10 years.
“Our budget is, basically, designed to reinforce the new missions we are talking about and that agile, deployable and ready force that has to move quickly,” Panetta said in the interview with Armed Forces Press Service.
“The example I’ve used is if we are in a land war in Korea and Iran does something in the Strait of Hormuz — to go after that and to deal with that threat is largely going to be the responsibility of the Air Force and Navy,” Panetta told the publication.
Anticipating attacks from his Republican rivals in an election year, Obama said earlier this month that reductions would be limited and would not come at the expense of America’s military might.
Washington’s focus on Asia is fueled by concerns over China’s growing navy and arsenal of anti-ship missiles that could jeopardize America’s military dominance in the Pacific.
At the time, Britain cautioned that the US pivot to Asia should not neglect Russia, calling it an unpredictable force on the global stage.