ISN SECURITY WATCH (25/10/2005) - Some 5,000 US troops will be deployed to Romania and Bulgaria next year as part of US plans to create more flexible bases in the region.
Jeffrey Levine, the deputy US ambassador to Bulgaria, made the announcement in an interview to the Associated Press. He said that under the plans 2,700 troops will be deployed in Bulgaria and 3,200 in Romania.
He said the troops will be deployed in both countries on a rotational basis in shared military facilities. In Bulgaria, the troops will be deployed at the Bezmer air base, and in Bulgaria they will be near the Novo Selo training area in the country's southeast. Both areas are near the Black Sea.
"We are talking about six-month rotational tours of the American forces deployed in Bulgaria, during which period the troops would likely go in and out of Bulgaria two or three times with the training focused on deployment," he told the AP.
No other details were provided but troop deployment has been a cornerstone of the Bush administration's plan to transform the military and the move into former Warsaw Pact countries as part of a broader troop realignment plan under which some 112,000 troops will be taken from Germany and other parts of Europe and be shifted to more flexible bases or back home. Some 68,500 would stay behind.
The Romanian and Bulgarian facilities would be likely used as temporary bases for a few thousand troops on short assignments. They would otherwise be based in the US or Germany.
The announcement comes after a meeting on Sunday in Bucharest, Romania, between US national security adviser Stephen Hadely and Romanian President Traian Basescu during which both sides said a deal on the bases would come "very soon".
Basescu said sites in Romania where US troops may be based include the port city of Constanta and the Babadag training area, south of Lake Razelm on the Danube Delta. Also included was a site near the city of Fetesti.
"Only minor details are still pending," Basescu said at a joint news conference with Hadely.
The security adviser said progress had been made in the talks.
"The discussions between the United States and Romania on this subject have been under way for some time, and they have made very good progress," he said, adding a deal would facilitate cooperation between US and Romanian forces.
Both Romania and Bulgaria are close US allies and allowed their bases to be used as staging areas for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and also have troops in Iraq as part of the so-called "coalition of the willing". Both became NATO members last year and are on the cusp of European Union membership.
A final decision on the bases in Bulgaria was expected by 15 December, according to Bulgaria's Defense Minister Vesselin Bliznakov, who was in Washington last week.
"I think that December 10-15 must be the deadline and then the Bulgarian Parliament must take the final decision," he said after meeting with US officials on 18 October.
US bases would give both nations valuable foreign investment ahead of their expected entry into the EU next year. The US has since 1989 given Bulgaria $100 million in military and $500 million in economic aid.
Presence in the two nations would give the US a much needed military foothold in the area.
"I think the military planners see the bases as a useful staging area out of Europe," Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president for Defense and Foreign Policy Studies at the libertarian Cato Institute in Washington told ISN Security Watch in a telephone interview on Tuesday.
Carpenter, however, questioned the need for a base in Europe when the prospects of another European conflict - save the Balkans - that the US may get involved in were slim.
"Generally it's a bad idea," he said. "It encourages the US to intervene outside of the Europe and most of the intervention out of that area is not going to be in our best interests."
(By Krishnadev Calamur in Washington, DC)