STUTTGART, Germany - U.S. forces stationed in Europe will increasingly shift their stance toward Africa and the former communist countries in eastern Europe as they move to counter terror threats in those areas, the top European commander said.
Marine Gen. James. L. Jones, who serves as NATO supreme commander and the head of the U.S. European Command, outlined changes to transform the 60-year U.S. military presence on the continent during an interview Friday with the Associated Press.
"The difference between the EUCOM of the 20th century - which I regard as the Cold War century - and the EUCOM of the 21st century is the family of threats that it faces, ranging from terrorism to radical fundamentalism to narcoterrorism to illegal trafficking of all sorts," Jones said at EUCOM headquarters in Stuttgart.
European Command, or EUCOM, isn't directly involved in operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, but plans to consolidate forces and shift them further south and east are in direct response to the threats developing from those conflicts.
Many of the changes, like consolidating different Army headquarters under one roof in Wiesbaden, are simply a continuation of post-Cold War cutback that began in the 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
But deeper changes are on the way, as the U.S. looks less to large, fixed bases like those it has had for decades in Germany, to smaller, more bare-bones installations where troops could be moved quickly for training or to deal with a crisis.
Of the currently 112,000 military personnel stationed in Europe, only about 40 percent are expected to remain on five main bases, most of them in Germany.
The large air bases at Ramstein and Spangdahlem, as well the nearby support community of Kaiserslautern, will remain hubs. The Army will concentrate on existing posts in Wiesbaden and Grafenwoehr. EUCOM headquarters will remain in Stuttgart, while both the Army and Air Force will remain in Aviano, Italy.
But increasingly the focus is shifting toward Africa, seen as a potential haven for Islamic extremists who have been ousted from places like Afghanistan.
Already five such agreements exist with countries in Africa, including the predominantly Muslim nations of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.
In Europe, the focus in increasingly turning to the new NATO members of the former Warsaw Pact. A special Eastern Europe Task Force would involve rotating troops on a regular basis for training exercises, including some with local militaries.
Bases in Bulgaria and Romania, both of which hosted the U.S. military during the Iraq war, have been earmarked to host forces, but would differ from those in Germany in that they would offer only skeletal infrastructure and no families would accompany troops there on their tours of duty.
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