US scales down troops in Europe to save money

US scales down troops in Europe to save money

Friday, January 9, 2015 12:05 am

US Soldiers of the 4th Infantry Brigade in Kosovo

US Soldiers of the 4th Infantry Brigade in Kosovo

The US military said Thursday it will close a major air base in Britain and withdraw from 14 other installations across Europe as part of a reorganisation of forces to save money.

The “consolidation” will save the US government about $500 million a year and not diminish American military power, Pentagon officials said, but the move prompted disappointment in Britain and anger in Portugal over the potential economic effect of the scaled-back presence.

The closure of bases and various outposts over the next several years will likely reduce the current contingent of 67,000 American forces in Europe by only about 1,200 troops, a defense official told AFP.

Under the plan, US operations at RAF Mildenhall in Britain will end and 500 troops and civilians will be withdrawn from Portugal’s Lajes Field in the Azores. Commanders concluded the Lajes air base was largely a relic from another era when aircraft on transatlantic flights needed to refuel or make emergency landings on their way to the European continent.

The government of Portugal expressed strong dissatisfaction over the “unilateral decision,” accusing Washington of failing to take into account reservations conveyed in discussions in recent years.

Lisbon was “particularly concerned about the consequences of this decision on the economic and social situation on the island of Terceira,” while the regional government of the Azores called it an “enormous slap in the face to the Portugese state.”

Some of the forces withdrawn from Britain and elsewhere will be shifted to Germany and Italy, US officials said.

— F-35 jets head to Britain —

The closure of Mildenhall, home to refueling tanker aircraft and special operations forces, will be offset in part by plans to station two squadrons of the new F-35 fighter jet at RAF Lakenheath within the next several years. The special operations unit at Mildenhall will be redeployed to Germany.

The moves will mean a net decrease of about 2,000 US military and civilian personnel in Britain, while in Germany, the 40,000-strong US force there will increase by several hundred troops over the next several years.

Britain played down the effect of the US decision to pull out of Mildenhall and instead focused on the plan to deploy F-35 squadrons to the country.

“Our historic relationship with the US remains as strong as ever, and their decision to base their first European F-35 squadrons in the UK clearly reflects the closeness of our partnership, as well as the American commitment to NATO and Europe,” British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said in a statement.

The move to end US operations at Mildenhall is “disappointing,” Fallon said. “However, we recognize that such changes are sometimes necessary.”

Despite the closures the United States remains committed to Europe’s security, amid concern over Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine.

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