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Last Updated: Monday, 16 August, 2004, 12:58 GMT 13:58 UK
US redeploying for quicker action
BY Paul Reynolds
BBC News Online world affairs correspondent

The withdrawals and redeployments of American troops announced by President George W Bush are not a sign that the US is retreating into an isolationist "Fortress America".

US troops in Najaf
US troops to be reconfigured for flexibility
They are, on the contrary, part of a plan to reconfigure US armed forces to enable them to intervene more quickly in crisis spots.

A major pull out from Germany and a thinning out in South Korea are expected to be among the moves.

The 'lily pad' concept

The concept is sometimes described as "lily pads."

Instead of the Cold War idea of basing large numbers of troops to face a known enemy in a predictable place, like Germany, there would be a series of bases strung out across the world like lilies across a pond.

From these, flexible forces armed with high technology weapons would intervene with maximum speed in trouble spots which cannot be foreseen at the moment.

"We are seeing a fundamental shift in how US forces are deployed," said Mark Joyce, head of the Transatlantic Programme at the Royal United Services Institute in London.

"The only question is why this has not happened before. But it has taken time to negotiate with local governments which are sometimes reluctant to lose American bases and the jobs they bring.
"We are seeing a fundamental shift in how US forces are deployed
Mark Joyce
Royal United Services Institute

"The fact is that the nature of the threat has changed. The Soviet Union has gone and even North Korea can be countered with new weapons and better South Korean forces.

"The days of the infantry-heavy force are gone. In future maritime power will become even more important with the use of carrier battle groups and there will be new facilities such as improved airfields in countries such as Bulgaria and Romania from which US forces can jump off."

A policy long predicted

There has been nothing secret about this change. The US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has been pressing for it for a long time. His insistence on ending the old thinking about the use of heavy armoured formations was evident in the planning for and the execution of the Iraq war. He scaled down General Tommy Franks' initial plans for a much larger force than was eventually used.

On 23 June this year, Douglas Feith, Under Secretary for Policy at the Pentagon, told the House Armed Services Committee: "We are performing the most thorough restructuring of US military forces overseas since the major elements of the US Cold War posture were set in 1953 when the Korean War ended."

We are not talking about fighting in place, but on our ability to move to the fight
Douglas Feith
US Under Secretary for Policy
He laid out the principles:

  • "We are not aiming at retrenchment, curtailing US commitments, isolationism or unilateralism.

  • "We are not focused on maintaining numbers of troops overseas. Instead we are focused on increasing the capabilities of our forces and those of our friends.

  • "We are not talking about fighting in place, but on our ability to move to the fight."

His reference to the capabilities of "friends" is an important component of the new approach. The US has started to negotiate agreements with basing countries to allow use of their infrastructure in a crisis. One example is the Graf Ignatievo airbase in Bulgaria which was first used to supply US forces in Afghanistan.

"Our concept is framed to position US forces optimally to influence the threats we now face and create presence and capacity through a network of joint forward operating bases and locations," Marine Gen. Peter Pace, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said earlier this year.

Origins of forward basing

Some experts trace one of the sources of the new policy to 1992, when Paul Wolfowitz, one of the neo-conservative thinkers behind US foreign policy, produced a Pentagon paper called "Defense Planning Guidance"

At a time when many were hoping for a "peace dividend" at the end of the Cold War which would see US and other forces return home, this document looked towards a day when the US should be prepared to take unilateral action.

"We will retain the pre-eminent responsibility for addressing selectively those wrongs which threaten not only our interests, but those of our allies or friends, or which could seriously unsettle international relations," the paper said.

The redeployments being announced by President Bush are the practical results of this thinking.

The BBC's Nick Childs
"The US presence in Iraq and Afghanistan will not be affected"

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