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Pentagon Proposes Significant Changes to Its European Forces

By Michael R. Gordon

The New York Times -- WASHINGTON

The Pentagon has proposed a plan to withdraw its two Army divisions from Germany and undertake an array of other changes in its European-based forces, in the most significant rearrangement of the U.S. military around the world since the beginning of the Cold War, according to U.S. and allied officials.

Pentagon policy-makers said the aim is to afford maximum flexibility in sending forces to the Middle East, Central Asia, and other potential battlegrounds. But some experts and allied officials are concerned that the shift will reduce Washington’s influence in NATO and weaken its diplomatic links with its allies, all at a time of rising anti-American sentiment around the world.

The proposal to withdraw the divisions comes at a time when the Army is stretched thin by deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. But Pentagon officials said the move, which has been under consideration for some time and involves forces in Asia as well as in Europe, is unrelated to the current fighting.

Under the Pentagon plan, the Germany-based 1st Armored Division and 1st Infantry Division would be returned to the United States. A brigade equipped with Stryker light armored vehicles would be deployed in Germany. A typical division consists of three brigades and can number 20,000 troops if logistical units are included, though these two divisions have only two brigades each in Germany, with the other brigade in the United States.

In addition, a wing of F-16 fighters may be shifted from their base in Spangdahlem, Germany, to the Incirlik base in Turkey, which would move the aircraft closer to the volatile Middle East; a wing generally consists of 72 aircraft. Under the Pentagon plan, the shift would be carried out only if the Turks give the United States broad latitude for using them, something that some officials see as unlikely.