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American Forces Press Service

Official: Asia-Pacific Strategy Drives Planned Marine Move

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 2, 2012 – The agreement between the United States and Japan to relocate some 9,000 Marines from Okinawa is an example of how American troops will build a more flexible, deployable force structure in the Asia-Pacific region, a senior defense official said today.

“We need to look at it in the context of … enhancing our posture and presence in the Western Pacific writ large,” Robert Scher, deputy assistant secretary of defense for plans, told the Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service.

About 5,000 of the Marines leaving Okinawa will shift to Guam, up to 2,500 will fill rotational, deployed slots in Australia, and the rest will move elsewhere in the region, Scher said.

A Marine force spread across more area, made up of self-contained units able to deploy and perform a range of contingency missions, will increase the U.S. military’s ability to quickly and effectively respond to contingencies, he said.

He noted the joint statement the two nations’ representatives announced April 26, which outlines the Okinawa realignment, also provides for a more “politically sustainable” arrangement for basing U.S. troops in Japan. The two nations have agreed that the roughly 10,000 Marines remaining on Okinawa after realignment will move from the highly populated central part of the island to more remote areas in the north, easing conditions for the island’s people, Scher said.

“Based on our conversations with the government of Japan, this is something they would like to see done to help make sure that our posture is sustainable … far into the future,” he added.

Both nations feel it’s important to accomplish the troop realignment “as expeditiously as possible,” Scher said, though they have not yet agreed on a firm timeline.

“There are a lot of different moving pieces … to any of these moves,” he said. “But we’re looking to figure out a way that we can very quickly try to move … elements of Marines off of Okinawa and on to Guam in the next couple of years.”

Scher emphasized projecting a timeline is always difficult, adding, “I would hate to predict when that move would be finally finished.”

Wherever Marines move from Okinawa, he added, the troop presence they establish will be a mix of permanently assigned and rotationally deployed elements, “to make sure that in each location, we have operationally relevant and capable units.”

One thing troops and their families can count on, he said, is there is “no chance that we’re going to [relocate] Marines permanently where they don’t have the services they need to take care of themselves and their families.”

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta announced Scher’s new position this week. Scher previously served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for south and Southeast Asia, within the office of the assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs.

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