The Pentagon's plan to withdraw 70,000 troops from bases overseas and transfer them back to the United States could hurt the military's ability to respond to emergencies and threatens U.S. influence in Europe and elsewhere. Those are among the conclusions of a report released Monday by an independent commission in Washington.
Beginning this year, the Pentagon plans to move tens of thousands of troops from bases created during the Cold War in Germany, Korea and other countries. It is a shift members of the Overseas Basing Commission say is too much, too fast.
The Defense Department wants to move the soldiers back to the United States and replace them with much smaller units and bases in strategic areas of the world.
The chairman of the commission, Al Cornella, says going forward with this redeployment so quickly could "severely compromise" the military. "We are saying slow this down, step back, take a breath, let's look at it and determine how we are going to put all these things in place," he said.
In the report the commission expresses concern that the military does not have enough ships, aircraft and prepositioned equipment overseas to allow large units based in the United States to respond quickly to global trouble spots in times of crisis.
The commission, which was created by the U.S. Congress, says in its report the plan is likely to put a great deal of pressure on forces that are already spread thin by conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The report says the plan will cost 20-billion dollars, about double the price tag predicted by the Pentagon.
The Defense Department is planning a major reduction in bases and forces in Germany, a move the commission warns could hurt relations with European allies and weaken America's commitment to the NATO alliance.
Commission member and retired general Keith Martin says such a massive redeployment of U.S. troops needs to be carefully considered by organizations throughout the government. "You have heard us all say that there are other agencies that should have voices in where our forces go and why. The Defense Department obviously has a strong voice in that, but it is not the only voice. It is a larger issue than just the Defense Department. We are simply asking that the process be slowed and reordered. We run the risk of doing too much, too fast and trying to be everywhere. We may end up being nowhere," he said.
Following the release of the commission's report, the Pentagon held a briefing for reporters to respond to some of the findings.
The principal Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Ryan Henry, says the Defense Department has held numerous meetings with members of Congress and foreign military and diplomatic officials to discuss the redeployment plans.
He says the welfare of the troops and their families is the Pentagon's top priority.
Mr. Henry points out that the process will unfold over the next six years. "In the area of speed, all along the way in not one of those negotiations did anyone raise any caution about the pace with which we are moving forward. They, as we, saw it as deliberate, thoughtful and flexible," he said.
The Pentagon says it is in the process of setting up a meeting between members of the commission and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Later this week Mr. Rumsfeld is expected to decide which domestic military bases will be closed or realigned, a very sensitive issue in the United States.