WASHINGTON -- Defense Secretary Dick Cheney ordered the withdrawal of 40,000 troops from Europe over the next 12 months in what will be the largest single U.S. troop cut in Europe since 1948, the Pentagon announced Wednesday.
Cheney's action was taken in anticipation of a successful conclusion of an agreement with the Soviet Union by the end of the year on reducing conventional forces in Europe.
'We have to begin the drawdown now to respond in an orderly way to changing security requirements and declining defense budgets,' Cheney said.
Cheney directed Gen. Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to reduce the number of U.S. forces in Europe by 40,000 during fiscal 1991, which begins Monday and ends Sept. 30, 1991.
Steve Lofgren, a historian at the Army's Center of Military History, said the 40,000 troop cut would be the largest single U.S. military withdrawal from Western Europe since 1948, when American troop strength settled at slightly more than 80,000 following the end of World War II.
The Pentagon said the United States has about 330,000 military personnel in Western Europe and surrounding waters. This includes about 215,000 Army, 85,000 Air Force, 30,000 Navy and 3,700 Marine personnel, though many of the sailors at sea have been sent into Middle East waters.
'Over the coming year, the U.S. Army will reduce its presence in Europe by 30,000 and the U.S. Air Force by 10,000,' the Pentagon said.
'Although the personnel drawdown will begin in October, no units will be deactivated before Jan. 1, 1991, to allow the affected units planning time and to avoid placing excessive strain on the logistics system,' it added.
Details on specific units and timetables for withdrawal will be announced by the headquarters of U.S. Army-Europe and U.S. Air Force- Europe as decisions are made, the Pentagon said.
'Military units normally require three to four months to close down, once a deactivation order is given,' the Pentagon said. 'By taking these anticipatory steps, the reductions can be spread throughout the entire 1991 fiscal year, instead of waiting for an agreement to be signed and compressing the reductions into a fraction of a year.'
U.S. and Soviet negotiators at the Conventional Forces in Europe, or CFE, talks in Vienna are working on a proposal to reduce the number of troops to 195,000 each in Central Europe. The United States would be able to maintain an additional 30,000 outside the central region, such as in Britain.
President Bush's proposed budget for fiscal 1991, which begins Oct. 1, called for trimming the ranks of the 2.1 million U.S. troops by 38, 000, but it did not specify where the forces would be reduced.
A Pentagon spokesman said these 40,000 to be withdrawn from Europe are 'part of the effort to reduce (total military) end-strength by 40,000 in fiscal 1991.'