Friday, February 22, 2008

Military scales back Romania rotation plans

By Charlie Coon, Stars and Stripes
European edition, Thursday, February 21, 2008

HEIDELBERG, Germany — The U.S. military has scaled back plans for troop rotations to Joint Task Force-East in Romania and will send a battalion there for training this summer instead of a full brigade.

Military planners had hoped to deploy a full brigade of 3,500 soldiers for training with Romanian forces, as well as with Bulgarian forces at Bulgaria’s Novo Selo Training Area.

But the military’s operations tempo due to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan limits the availability of troops, U.S. Army Europe officials said Wednesday.

“We’re probably looking at a couple of years until you see brigades come out,” said Col. Bob Hess, USAREUR’s chief of plans. “Of course, that’s going to be driven by what’s going on in the wars. That’s our No. 1 priority.”

The battalion going this summer will be led by a headquarters group from Joint Multinational Training Command in Hohenfels, Germany.

Soldiers from Hohenfels’ 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, National Guard units from Utah and New Mexico, and others would comprise the approximately 900-troop deployment, which would last from June to October.

Romania and Bulgaria, former Soviet bloc nations located next to each other on the Black Sea, have 10-year agreements to let U.S. forces use some of their bases for training.

Sending a battalion to Romania, as opposed to canceling the rotation altogether, shows that the stretched-thin military highly values its new bond with the country, especially in light of the Russian opposition to the U.S. presence there, according to Christine E. Wormuth, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“I was working with Romania back in the mid-90s,” said Wormuth, a former Europe strategist with the Pentagon. “You want to be able to leverage those relationships you spent a lot of time and energy building in the wake of the Cold War. You don’t want to put that good work at risk.”

The task force, which is headquartered at Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base near Constanta, Romania, performed its first rotation last summer and fall using about 1,000 mostly Europe-based troops.

For the upcoming deployment, troops would train with Romanian forces from early June until early August at the air base, Babadag Training Area and elsewhere.

U.S. troops would then move south into Bulgaria and train with Bulgarian forces at Novo Selo.

Training would focus on situations that U.S., Romanian and Bulgarian forces might face in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Hess and Col. Kevin Beerman, chief of USAREUR’s engineer division.

After this year’s rotation is finished, another would be prepared for 2009. In the meantime, JTF-East staff would remain in Romania and Bulgaria to further prepare the sites for future rotations.

Sailors from Navy construction battalions would continue working on base facilities and on humanitarian missions.

Col. Constantin Moisa, a spokesman with the Romanian military, said his forces’ upcoming training with JTF-East depends on what the U.S. military brings to bear. He said he did not know what impact the scaled-back deployment would have.

“At this stage I can’t say if it is disappointing or not,” Moisa said. “It’s too early to make an assessment.”

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