Bush announces major troop realignment
Two U.S. Army divisions to leave Germany
CINCINNATI, Ohio (CNN) -- Promising "a more agile and more flexible force," President Bush announced on Monday a major realignment of U.S. forces around the world.
Bush said about 60,000 to 70,000 uniformed personnel would move from overseas to posts in the United States over the next decade. The move would also involve about 100,000 family members and civilian employees, Bush said.
"The new plan will help us fight and win these wars of the 21st century," Bush said in a speech before a convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Pentagon and senior administration officials told CNN that most of the reductions will come from Europe -- the rest, from Asia.
The moves, they said, would not affect U.S. troops based in Iraq or Afghanistan, where there are about 120,000 troops and 20,000 troops respectively.
Two U.S. Army divisions based in Germany will return to the United States as part of the realignment, senior Pentagon officials said Monday.
Bush's announcement -- tagged on the end of a political speech -- drew quick criticism from the Democratic presidential campaign of Sen. John Kerry. Surrogates for Kerry -- who is taking a break from the campaign trail -- said the redeployment would undermine U.S. security.
But Bush said it makes no sense to continue an armed posture that was forged during the Cold War, when the Soviet Union represented the nation's biggest threat. Terrorism, he said, is now the chief threat.
"The world has changed a great deal and our posture must change with it," Bush said.
He said the plan had been in the works for three years, and U.S. allies and Congress were consulted on it.
The nation's commander in chief predicted the plan would result in stronger alliances and reduce the stress on U.S. troops and their families.
"Our service members will have more time on the home front and more predictability and fewer moves over a career," Bush said.
In Germany, the two divisions that will return are the Army's 1st Armored Division and 1st Infantry Division. That shift is not expected to take place before 2006.
The "heavy" divisions, each with 10,000 to 15,000 soldiers, will be replaced by a smaller, lighter and more mobile brigade equipped with the Army's new Stryker armored vehicles. A brigade has 3,000 to 5,000 troops
In a briefing to reporters at the Pentagon several hours after Bush announcement, Defense and State Department officials said the United States could close about half its military bases in Europe by the end of 2010.
Talks with allies such as Japan, where almost 40,000 U.S. troops are based, and Turkey, where the U.S would like to base warplanes, are continuing and much of the restructuring details could not be discussed, officials said.
Pentagon officials also would not discuss the downsizing of the U.S. troops contingent in South Korea. The contingent now numbers about 37,000.
At the beginning of the summer, a South Korean Foreign Ministry official said the United States had told him it would like to withdraw a third of its 37,000 troops stationed on the peninsula by the end of next year.
In early June, a U.S. delegation, led by Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Lawless, said Washington wanted to withdraw some 12,500 U.S. troops by December 2005, according to Kim Sook, head of the South Korean Foreign Ministry's North American bureau.
The announcement comes less than three months before the presidential election. Some Democrats questioned the timing of Bush's announcement.
The rival campaigns have squabbled over U.S. military commitments and whether the armed forces are getting the support they need.
In a statement released by the Democratic National Committee, retired Gen. Wesley Clark, a former presidential candidate and former NATO supreme commander, said the redeployment from Europe and Asia would "significantly undermine U.S. national security."
"This ill-conceived move and its timing seem politically motivated rather than designed to strengthen our national security," Clark said.
Richard Holbrooke, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and an adviser to Kerry's presidential campaign, called Bush's plan "pretty alarming."
Holbrooke, who is also a former ambassador to Germany and former assistant secretary of state for Asia, said, "I know that the Germans are very unhappy about these withdrawals. The Koreans are going to be equally unhappy. How can we withdraw troops from Korea while engaged in a delicate negotiation with the North Koreans? And there's a country that really does have weapons of mass destruction."
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld hinted at the change earlier this month, saying the proposed troop realignment would take several years and would likely lead to more American personnel stationed in the United States.
"We've decided that it's time to shift our posture in Europe and Asia and around the world and move from static defense, which does not make much sense today, to a more deployable and usable set of capabilities," Rumsfeld said.
Lawmakers weighed in over the weekend as news of the plan emerged.
"This is a fundamental change and is a change probably in the tactics of our military, so that our people will be more mobile, more available at other places all over the earth," Sen. Richard Lugar, Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Sunday.
And some Democrats agreed that changes were in order for the armed forces, but stressed that the details of any realignment were key.
"There are some things that we should do to redeploy troops so that they are in the best position possible for what the new threats are," Sen. Carl Levin, a Democratic member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
CNN's Kathleen Koch, Mike Mount and Elaine Quijano contributed to this report.