Panetta Outlines U.S. Troop Changes in Europe

WASHINGTON, Feb. 16, 2012 — Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta met with Ger­man Defense Min­is­ter Thomas De Maiz­ière at the Pen­ta­gon today, as Defense Depart­ment offi­cials announced details of planned changes in the U.S. mil­i­tary pres­ence in Europe.

The Army will inac­ti­vate its Ger­many-based 170th and 172nd infantry brigades this year and in fis­cal 2014, respec­tive­ly, offi­cials announced, as part of a change that will cut U.S. ser­vice mem­bers in Europe from about 80,000 now to about 70,000 in 2017.

“The min­is­ter under­stands the neces­si­ty of the shifts we are mak­ing as we work to imple­ment our new defense strat­e­gy while meet­ing our fis­cal respon­si­bil­i­ties,” Panet­ta said dur­ing a press brief­ing with his Ger­man coun­ter­part.

The sec­re­tary said he and De Maiz­ière had a pro­duc­tive meet­ing today, as they had ear­li­er this month in both Brus­sels and Munich where both attend­ed NATO defense meet­ings and the annu­al Munich Secu­ri­ty Con­fer­ence.

Panet­ta thanked De Maiz­ière for his lead­er­ship both in NATO delib­er­a­tions and in his nation’s “very stead­fast” sup­port to the alliance-led Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force in Afghanistan.

“Ger­many has been with us from the very begin­ning,” the sec­re­tary said. “The Ger­man mil­i­tary plays a very impor­tant role as the lead for ISAF Region­al Com­mand North.”

Ger­many is both a top troop con­trib­u­tor for ISAF and a top fund­ing con­trib­u­tor for Afghan secu­ri­ty force sus­tain­ment, he not­ed.

The Ger­man peo­ple have shown great com­mit­ment through a decade of war in Afghanistan, Panet­ta said. He offered his con­do­lences to the fam­i­lies of the 50 Ger­man ser­vice mem­bers killed in com­bat there.

“Thou­sands of Ger­man troops are fight­ing coura­geous­ly along­side U.S., coali­tion and Afghan forces,” he said. “They’ve worked to estab­lish secu­ri­ty in Mazar-e Sharif and Her­at, and they con­tin­ue to keep the pres­sure on the ene­my.”

De Maiz­ière took a lead role in bring­ing togeth­er fel­low NATO defense min­is­ters in reaf­firm­ing sup­port for the Afghanistan com­mit­ments the nations’ lead­ers made at a sum­mit in Lis­bon, Por­tu­gal, in 2010, Panet­ta said.

“We have joined in the com­mit­ment of ‘in togeth­er, out togeth­er’ … and I’m grate­ful for that, and I’m par­tic­u­lar­ly grate­ful for his lead­er­ship in help­ing us achieve that com­mon path,” he said.

Turn­ing to adjust­ments in Euro­pean bas­ing, the sec­re­tary not­ed some 40,000 U.S. troops will remain in Ger­many after the two heavy brigades depart. He added those forces will con­tin­ue to train with part­ner nations’ forces and main­tain a high state of readi­ness for future inter­na­tion­al oper­a­tions.

“I am very grate­ful, as are all Amer­i­can peo­ple, for the very warm hos­pi­tal­i­ty U.S. troops and their fam­i­lies enjoy in Ger­many,” he said. “Ger­many has been an incred­i­ble host.”

Panet­ta not­ed along with forces sta­tioned in Europe, the Defense Depart­ment is plan­ning rota­tion­al troop train­ing deploy­ments to aug­ment multi­na­tion­al train­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties.

De Maiz­ière, speak­ing through an inter­preter, said he can­not object to the Unit­ed States mod­ern­iz­ing and reshap­ing its forces, as his own nation is mak­ing the same effort with its mil­i­tary.

Panet­ta has been “trans­par­ent from the very begin­ning” about the planned changes to U.S. forces in Europe, De Maiz­ière not­ed, and added Amer­i­can troops, fam­i­ly mem­bers and civil­ians in remain­ing U.S. mil­i­tary orga­ni­za­tions will “always be wel­come in Ger­many.”

The two heavy brigades the Army will inac­ti­vate in Ger­many have not been mod­ern­ized, and dis­band­ing them will save the Army mon­ey as it pre­pares to reduce its ranks by 70,000 sol­diers, a senior defense offi­cial speak­ing on back­ground told reporters today.

Oth­er U.S. troop adjust­ments in Europe include the inac­ti­va­tion of 5th Corps Head­quar­ters in Wies­baden, Ger­many; the move of U.S. Army Europe Head­quar­ters from Hei­del­berg, Ger­many, to Wies­baden; the inac­ti­va­tion of the Air Force’s 81st Fight­er Squadron at Spang­dahlem Air Base, Ger­many; and inac­ti­va­tion of the 603rd Air Con­trol Squadron at Aviano Air Base, Italy. The Army will also relo­cate ele­ments of the 173rd Air­borne Brigade Com­bat Team from loca­tions in Ger­many to the brigade’s long-planned con­sol­i­dat­ed loca­tion in Vicen­za, Italy.

Forces that will remain in Europe include the 2nd Stryk­er Cav­al­ry Reg­i­ment at Vilseck, Ger­many, and the 173rd at Vicen­za. A senior defense offi­cial today called those mod­ern­ized units two of the Army’s “cut­ting-edge” troop for­ma­tions.

De Maiz­ière not­ed “high-val­ue” U.S. units are remain­ing in Ger­many.

“I believe the impact [of the units leav­ing] will be mod­er­ate,” he said. “Ger­many will remain the coun­try where the bulk of U.S. troops will remain sta­tioned, and this under­scores that Ger­many is a strate­gi­cal­ly valu­able … loca­tion for our Amer­i­can friends.”

Joseph Gar­vey, a senior U.S. Army Europe offi­cial, told Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice USAREUR’s com­man­der, Lt. Gen. Mark P. Hertling, has vis­it­ed com­mu­ni­ties across Ger­many in recent weeks to address troop and fam­i­ly con­cerns about the pend­ing moves.

Hertling assured Army fam­i­lies their lead­ers in Europe will do every­thing pos­si­ble to lim­it upheaval for sol­diers, fam­i­ly mem­bers and civil­ians, Gar­vey said.

The gen­er­al also told troops and fam­i­lies lead­ers will work to ensure those affect­ed by the moves are treat­ed with dig­ni­ty and respect as the Army in Europe works through this tran­si­tion, Gar­vey added.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)