WASHINGTON – A congressionally chartered panel of military experts said Monday the Pentagon should slow its withdrawal of troops from Europe and Asia and should keep in Germany one of the two heavy armored units currently scheduled to return to the United States.
“We’re saying slow this down, step back, take a breath,” said Al Cornella, chairman of the Overseas Basing Commission, whose report includes findings the Pentagon strongly disputes. “Let’s look at it and determine how” to accommodate the troops who are brought home, he said.
The commission also said it believes the Pentagon has underestimated the cost of repositioning U.S. forces abroad. It’s likely to cost closer to $20 billion than the $8 billion to $12 billion estimated by the Pentagon, the panel said in its report to Congress and President Bush.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said arrangements are in place to build housing and other facilities required for the return of an estimated 70,000 troops and 100,000 family members. Most are returning from Germany, but some also will come home from South Korea. Whitman said while the Pentagon appreciates the commission’s work, “the analysis has significant flaws and suffers from inaccuracies in its findings.”
He said the commission was wrong to conclude the Pentagon has not adequately coordinated with other government agencies and with members of Congress, and he disputed the panel’s finding that overseas changes should await decisions on domestic military base closures.
Whitman said Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld’s recommendations on which domestic bases to close or realign – to be disclosed no later than May 16 and possibly later this week – have taken into account the need to accommodate the 70,000 troops returning from overseas.
Rumsfeld said in a conference call with newspaper editorial writers last week that the return of 70,000 troops and their families is one reason the Pentagon has lowered its estimate of the surplus base capacity it needs to eliminate.
Rather than 20 percent to 25 percent, the reduction may be half that, Rumsfeld said, according to three writers who participated in the call. Another reason the estimated base surplus has been reduced is that the Pentagon has found it can move some people from leased space onto government-owned space, saving lease costs and making greater use of space on existing bases, Rumsfeld was reported to have said.