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US Army plan would cut soldiers in Europe by half

Some 35,000 troops would remain, if Defense Secretary Gates approves the recommendation.

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Under a broad plan to reconfigure US military forces in Europe, as few as three Army combat brigades, or about 35,000 soldiers, would remain there – a major downsizing from the roughly 62,000 US soldiers stationed there as recently as 2005.

That, at least, will be the recommendation of an internal study conducted for the head of US European Command and NATO forces in Europe, Gen. Bantz John Craddock, who had asked for a "troop-to-task" assessment of forces in the European theater. The assessment is expected to recommend that a fourth brigade based in the United States be deployed to Europe on a "rotational" basis, for exercises and other operations.

The reduction in the Army's presence in Europe is part of a broader reduction in forces that include Navy, Air Force, and Marine personnel.

The assessment has not even been made public yet, but critics already are charging that the recommended plan would leave the US shorthanded overseas. They want to see at least four combat brigades, or around 44,000 soldiers, left in Europe.

Minimizing US troop levels in Europe sends the wrong message to other countries in Europe, and leaves those forces that remain there undermanned to do the jobs they're required to do, says one critic, who wished to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the negotiations.

In part, it's a question of dispersing US forces around the world where they can engage with other countries, not keeping them isolated inside the US, the official says. "The world we live in is a world of coalitions."

There are other concerns about bringing US forces back to the US. As the Army and Marine Corps grow by thousands of personnel over the next several years, there may not be the room to bring existing forces back from Europe.

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