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US to keep strong presence in Germany

STUTTGART, Germany -- The US military will keep a significant troop presence in Germany and even expand some bases, a senior US commander said yesterday, despite the planned withdrawal of two Cold War-era divisions over the next decade.

Air Force General Charles F. Wald, deputy head of the US military's European Command, also said major Air Force installations in Germany would be untouched by the troop realignment plans that President Bush announced Monday.

Wald said a new, mobile brigade using lighter Stryker armored vehicles would be added, and major headquarters would also stay.

"The real issue is not the percentage of troops leaving, so much as there will still be a significant capability left here, and it will be transformed to be more mobile, more light, and more responsive," Wald said at European Command headquarters in Stuttgart.

The sprawling Ramstein air base in western Germany, already a major strategic airlift hub for the US military's global operations, "will become even larger," he said.

Another base at Spangdahlem, home to two US F-16 squadrons, also will remain, he said.

Overall, though, the Pentagon wants to replace the larger, permanently based forces it relied on to deter the Soviet Union during the Cold War with more mobile forces to respond to new threats such as terrorism and regional crises.

Pentagon officials have said the two heavy divisions in Germany will leave: the First Armored, based in Wiesbaden, and the First Infantry, based in Wuerzburg..

Wald said the Stryker brigade -- about a third the size of a division -- would symbolize the effort "to better respond to the new threats of the 21st century."

Wald said the brigade's location was still be negotiated with the German government. European command officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said plans envision basing it at the large US training range near the Bavarian town of Grafenwoehr.

Command officials also said an airborne brigade or battalion would be stationed in Europe, and the Army would rotate other brigades into Europe, one at a time.

With the Cold War's end, the US military wants to move away from permanently based troops with accompanying infrastructure such as schools and family housing, relying instead on stripped-down facilities where units would deploy for several months without spouses or children.

Many military personnel currently serve three-year tours overseas with their families.

"The part that does leave will be augmented by rotational forces on a routine basis, either here in Germany or other places in the area," Wald said.

As part of the changes, European Command's headquarters may actually be expanded, he said.

On Monday, Bush said the realignment ultimately would bring up to 70,000 troops -- plus about 100,000 family members and civilian workers -- back to the United States. Major shifts would not begin before 2006.

More than 200,000 US troops are now stationed overseas, mostly in Europe.

Wald said that the change would have advantages for the families of US soldiers.

Military personnel would face "smaller deployments and actually go places for a less extended period of time," Wald said. That shift "will give them better predictability and quality of life," he said.

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