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Panel urges overseas base realignment slowdown

Overseas Basing Commission raises national security concerns a week before announcement of U.S. base closings.

An independent panel is raising concerns about the Pentagon's plan to reposition military forces around the globe and is suggesting that the overseas realignment of troops and bases be slowed down.

"The sequencing and pace of the proposed realignments could harm our ability to meet broader national security and could impact both the military's ability to protect national interests and the quality of life of the servicewomen and men affected by the realignment," stated a report from the Overseas Basing Commission, a six-member panel appointed by Congress to review the U.S. overseas basing plans.

The Pentagon is not required to enact the report's recommendations, only take them under advisement.

The report comes the week before the Defense Department is set to announce its recommendations for closing and realigning bases in the United States. The commission did not review domestic basing, but its recommendations on overseas basing could have an impact on whether more space is needed stateside for the 70,000 troops returning from Europe.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said that the impact of the base realignment and closing process would not be as severe as once expected because more bases would be needed as the military pulled forces out of Western Europe. The report suggests those movements should be smaller and might be years away.

The commission did say that it fully backed the need to reposition forces around the globe in light of new security concerns. But it recommended the efforts be "slowed and reordered" to ensure better coordination across the government.

A chief concern is that the Defense Department has made little effort to coordinate the realignment of forces overseas with other federal agencies that have a stake in national security matters-ranging from diplomacy to commerce. The report says there is no "interagency entity" charged with coordinating the repositioning and determining the impact it would have on all activities related to national security.

Other recommendations and concerns cited by the report were:

  • The Pentagon has estimated the costs at $9 billion to $12 billion, but the commission says the tab is probably closer to $20 billion.
  • Withdrawing all heavy Army forces in Europe could harm the service if new conflict broke out in the Balkans. The panel recommended keeping a least one heavy brigade in Europe rather than returning it stateside until the Balkan and Iraqi missions are complete.
  • The Marine Corps should curtail plans to move large numbers of personnel out of Okinawa, Japan.
  • Delaying overseas movements until the Pentagon settles on plans for domestic military base closings (BRAC), completes the Quadrennial Defense Review and other key ongoing studies.

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