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The Boston Globe July 07, 2003

US remaking look, locations of bases abroad

By Robert Schlesinger

WASHINGTON -- For 21st century life abroad, the US military is going back to basics. Gone will be what one commander called ''small-town USA'' bases in Europe, with every modern convenience from fast-food restaurants and full hospitals to pharmacies, schools, and playgrounds.

Instead, the emerging future of the US military overseas looks more like Camp Lemonier, a collection of tan and white cinder block buildings sitting at one dirty end of Ambouli Airport outside the capital of Djibouti. The medical facility, capable of handling only minor injuries, is a tent. Plumbing is sparse. Recreation comes in the form of a couple of pool tables, video games, and a big-screen television for movies. Troops are limited to three cold beers at the canteen. Family is on another continent.

Pentagon planners have begun to move troops off traditional bases, relying instead on small, stripped-down facilities based near what officials call the ''arc of instability,'' which stretches from North Africa into Southeast Asia, or the ''nonintegrating gap,'' which refers to a swath of countries shut out of global economic prosperity.

The Pentagon is engaged in the most fundamental shift of US armed forces around the globe since America's post-World War II rise to superpower status, according to defense officials and military specialists familiar with the still unfolding plans. The result will be more bases like Camp Lemonier, as planners move US forces away from a Cold War posture of containing a defined threat and toward a focus on speed and overwhelming muscle against emerging crises -- a posture that fits President Bush's policy of preventive war.

''It's the outward and visible, concrete . . . manifestation of the Bush doctrine,'' said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a Virginia-based defense think tank.

For military families, the shifts will have a profound impact, with troops leaving the United States for deployments of several months rather than being stationed overseas. ''The thought is to make a smaller footprint, put a set of equipment there, have more austere conditions, and then rotate units from the continental United States for six months,'' a Pentagon official said on condition of anonymity.

The Bush strategy also means a ''radical shift'' in the operational purpose of bases, said Andrew Bacevich, a retired Army colonel who teaches international relations at Boston University. The purpose of these bases is not to defend ''but to intervene,'' he added. ''The political purpose is not so much to enhance stability, but to use US forces as an instrument of political change.''

Instead of Cold War-era deployments designed to defend Western Europe from a Soviet threat, US troops are pushing east into the former Soviet republics, central and Southeast Asia, and the Pacific rim -- patchworking a global defense against more-dispersed enemies, particularly terrorists and the states that host them.

Djibouti, home to Camp Lemonier, is in the Horn of Africa and an hour's boat ride from Yemen. That area is the hunting grounds for special forces and Marines operating from the 1,800-person base targeting Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

Similar US postings were created through basing agreements with Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan during the Afghan war, and Bulgaria and Romania during the Iraq war. Other places likely to figure into future US basing plans include Poland, Australia, and Qatar.

While US engagement in Africa traditionally has been limited and reactive, Pentagon strategists are increasingly focused on the continent as a new area of operations.

General James L. Jones, head of US European Command, which oversees operations in much of Africa, told the Senate appropriations subcommittee on military construction in late April: ''I am concerned about the large ungoverned areas of Africa that are possible melting pots for the disenfranchised of the world, so to speak, the terrorist breeding grounds, criminality, people who are being recruited as we speak to rise up against the developed world and the democracies that enjoy a peaceful and prosperous way of life. We're going to have to engage more in that theater and part of the basing realignment and proposals that we are coming up with will establish some footprints at a very low cost . . . to begin to stem the tide of what is going to be, I think, an extremely difficult story.''

On the other side, the United States announced in late April that virtually all of the 10,000 uniformed and civilian military personnel in Saudi Arabia will be pulled. That was followed by a June order that 14,000 US troops would redeploy away from the South Korean Demilitarized Zone.

''The 20th century paradigm . . . was that you have everybody here all the time and all the equipment you needed because it was, after all, going to be a major war,'' Jones said in March. ''That threat has now receded a little bit . . . We have to change that force to make sure that it can be more agile, so that it can be in more places simultaneously.''

But the Bush administration will face the possibility that troop withdrawals will upset allies such as Germany. ''It becomes a very sensitive issue,'' the Pentagon official said.

Defense specialists estimated that at least half of the 68,000 US troops based in Germany will move. More broadly in Europe, Jones has said that at a bare minimum, 20 percent of 499 US installations -- anything from a tiny outpost to a full base -- should be shut down. The South Korean figure is not expected to fall, but those forces will be more deployable to other parts of the region -- a necessity given a finite number of US troops already stressed by increased operations.

Investing in a large number of smaller bases and pre-positioning equipment also leaves US operations planners less constrained by individual foreign countries. During the Iraq war the inability to come to agreement with Turkey on using its territory precluded opening a northern front with heavy armored divisions.

Such potential problems spurred planners ''to want to proliferate the number of bases so you are not heavily reliant on one in particular,'' said Andrew Krepinevich with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. ''It drives you away from well-developed bases because if you spend a lot of money developing a base, you'd like to have some guarantee that you'll be able to use it.''

As a result, the huge foreign bases where troops' families also live will mostly be things of the past. While a few, like Ramstein Air Base in Germany, will continue, the wave of the future will be smaller facilities known as ''forward operating bases'' and ''forward operating locations.''


Copyright 2003, Globe Newspaper Company