The levels of cuts to the 52,000-troop U.S. presence in Germany wasn't specified by U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta last week when he unveiled a sweeping new strategy for leaner military fighting force -- the specifics will be left to President Barack Obama's annual defense budget request to be submitted in February.
But Panetta revealed that even though Washington is committing to a smaller military overall, it's planning a beefed-up presence in the Asia-Pacific region while maintaining its current strength levels the Middle East, meaning reductions will have to come from somewhere else.
"The U.S. military's force posture in Europe will, of necessity, continue to adapt and evolve to meet new challenges and opportunities, particularly in light of the security needs of the continent relative to the emerging strategic priorities that we face elsewhere," Panetta told reporters Thursday in Washington.
The defense chief also was careful to highlight the importance the Pentagon continues to place on its European partnerships and the strategic role of the NATO alliance.
But the U.S. troop presence in Europe is seen by some as a costly Cold War relic at a time when the U.S. government is intent on reducing budget deficits.
The U.S. military newspaper Stars and Stripes reported a bipartisan group of U.S. senators in October singled out facilities in Europe as obsolete and called for a full review of the costs of running U.S. military bases overseas.
Some European analysts also believe the Pentagon's shift in emphasis to Asia and the Middle East means the four combat brigades currently stationed in Europe will be prime targets for reductions, Deutsche Welle reported.
"The Americans will almost certainly reduce their troop presence in Europe further and in doing so will also close military bases," Otfried Nassauer, director of the Berlin Information Center for Trans-Atlantic Security, told the German broadcaster.
Another security expert, Oliver Thranert of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, agreed U.S. troop withdrawals from Germany are likely under the scenario, although coming short of a "full withdrawal.
"Ramstein Air Base, in particular, is vital to American soldiers for its command and communication structures as well as for its medical care," Thranert told Deutsche Welle.
The broadcaster noted that U.S. diplomatic cables from 2010 released by WikiLeaks indicated that a total of 10,471 US soldiers and army employees will be pulled out of Germany by 2015 at the latest.
A reduction of that size would have a substantial negative economic impact for Germany, especially in the states of Hesse and Baden-Wurttemberg, the report said, including annual losses of $7.6 million per year for the southern German city of Mannheim and $9.5 million for Heidelberg.
U.S. experts, however, said any European troop reductions are unlikely to alter the relationship between the United States and NATO.
Lisa Aronsson, an expert on NATO at the Royal United Services Institute in London, told Stars and Stripes, "I think (the Pentagon is) committed to maintaining a presence in Europe for lots of reasons.
"I think they're considering whether it can be done in a different way," such as rotating more troops in and out of Europe, she added.
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