The outgoing head of US forces in Europe says American troop reductions on the continent have gone too far and that plans to reduce numbers further should be re-evaluated.

US troop numbers in Europe have dropped sharply since the height of the cold war. From 315,000 personnel in the late 1980s, numbers have fallen to 100,000 and plans are in train to cut the numbers further, to roughly 70,000.

But in a television interview to be broadcast on Sunday, Marine General James Jones said he thought the drawdowns had gone too far – and that he had officially reported his views to the Pentagon. Gen Jones was replaced this month as Nato’s military commander and head of the US military’s European Command by US army General John Cradock.

Gen Jones said he was particularly concerned about the army, which, according to US defence officials, has 54,000 personnel in Europe. “As I left Europe, in my last report I expressed some concern that the size of the US army in Europe had . . . perhaps gone too low,” he told C-Span’s Newsmaker programme.

He said that, because the full planned reduction had not taken place, there was still time to take another look at the plans.

“I think generally with regard to the other services we got it about right. But . . . I think you might want to consider taking another look at the army’s posture in Europe.”

He said the US needed troops in Europe partly so that they could be quickly deployed in trouble-spots in Africa and elsewhere. “I think the emergence of Africa as a strategic reality is inevitable and we’re going to need forward-based troops, special operations, marines, soldiers, airmen and sailors to be in the right proportion,” he said. The Pentagon had proposed the creation of a new Africa Command to reflect this view, US officials said.

The downsizing of the US military in Europe had been aggressively driven by Donald Rumsfeld, the former defence secretary who stepped down this month. It has been accompanied by a reconfiguration of bases, including the creation of some new sites in countries such as Bulgaria and Romania.

But Mr Rumsfeld’s departure from the scene has allowed senior military figures to express a widespread view that the US military as a whole – in particular the army and the marines – has shrunk too far.

The experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, into which many European-based US troops have been rotated, has raised questions about whether the Rumsfeld vision of a high-tech military with few boots on the ground fits the type of low-intensity conflicts that the US military is now largely fighting.


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