Future of U.S. bases in fresh doubt

By Dave GooderhamTHE future of U.S. military operations in Suffolk was thrown into fresh doubt last night after the withdrawal of 70,000 troops from Europe was announced.

By Dave Gooderham

THE future of U.S. military operations in Suffolk was thrown into fresh doubt last night after the withdrawal of 70,000 troops from Europe and Asia was announced.

President Bush unveiled yesterday a huge shake-up of the USA's armed forces, ordering the recall of up to 70,000 troops currently stationed in Europe and Asia over the next 10 years.

The move will also affect more than 100,000 family members and support personnel.

Senior White House officials said a significant portion of troops would be sent to bases in the USA, although others could be shifted to posts in Eastern Europe,

No further details were given about the withdrawal, but biggest realignment of U.S. forces since the end of the Cold War looks set to spell an uncertain future for RAF Mildenhall and RAF Lakenheath as it is believed the Pentagon sees many of its bases in Europe as outdated.

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While both USAF bases in Suffolk refused to comment directly on the shake-up, community leaders voiced concerns about what it could mean for their area.

Mildenhall parish councillor, Gerald Taylor-Balls, said: "I think any reduction on troops in Suffolk would have a major affect on the area.

"I would be surprised if the U.S. didn't keep the bases as a stepping stone to Europe, but the powers that be may look at it very differently."

The redeployment is seen by many commentators as a way of enabling troops to intervene more quickly in potential trouble-spots, but President Bush refuted claims the decision was a retreat into isolationist "Fortress America".

In a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention, he said the terrorist attacks of September 11 had changed America.

"We will ensure that our forces are well-prepared and well-positioned to meet the challenges of the future," added the President.

A spokesman for RAF Mildenhall said: "Our commitments to our friends and allies are not in question. One of our goals is to support the defence transformation processes being undertaken in order that we may face common global security issues together.

"We will do this by replacing legacy forces with cutting-edge transformational capabilities for combined training and coalition operations.

"With a strengthen posture, we will be in a better position to be in both supporting and supported relationships with allies.

"The Department of Defense has been reviewing our posture around the world for quite some time - assessing the most appropriate and effective ways to realign a post-Cold War force to address the 21st Century threats."

dave.gooderham@eadt.co.uk

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