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Full-time US presence in Bulgaria and Romania?
June 3, 2003
Associated Press

Written by George Jahn
Posted by HW on August 9, 2020

Out of Germany
U.S. troops may soon use Balkans bases for training sites and staging points for possible interventions in the Middle East as the Pentagon weighs withdrawing 15,000 soldiers from Germany, diplomats and government officials in Europe say.

"Soviet bloc"
Speculation about U.S. bases in newly democratic eastern Europe began months ago with NATO's decision to expand membership to the former Soviet bloc. On a recent stop in Bulgaria, which joins next year, Gen. Charles Wald, deputy U.S. Army commander in Europe, said that "as NATO moves east our presence and our participation will have to be where NATO is."

Full-time presence
But Balkan bases first used by the Americans during the Iraq war may get a full-time U.S. presence even before the official NATO expansion, said Western diplomats and local officials, who agreed to discuss the situation on condition of anonymity.

"Within months"
They said the Pentagon wants to use big Romanian and Bulgarian training grounds in year-round programs that would have up to 3,000 battle-ready U.S. soldiers here at any time. Speaking separately, two diplomats said such training could begin "within months, not years."

No formal agreement yet
None of those who spoke about the possible bases reported any formal agreement, but they indicated the parties were discussing the details of allowing U.S. military bases in the two countries. Legislation would be needed to implement such agreements.
Asked about the comments, a Pentagon spokesman in Washington, Lt. Dan Hetlage, said Tuesday that no decisions had been made on using the bases.

The idea is for the U.S. troops — infantry, artillery, light armor and helicopters — to undergo intense training of 30-90 days, then return to bases in western Europe or the United States, the sources said.

"Trouble spots"
But the diplomats and officials said the troops would also be ready for quick movement to trouble spots in the Middle East or Central Asia.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other Pentagon officials have said they are studying how to shift U.S. troops around the world to respond to new threats such as terrorism.

Close to threats
"This is probably the closest point in Europe to the sort of threat which is centered in the areas of Central Asia, (or) the (Persian) Gulf," Romanian Defense Minister Ioan Mircea Pascu said in an interview.
Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi told The Associated Press that the region also is a good jumping off point for fighting international terrorists groups, "an enemy hidden somewhere, without a capital, without a face, without a government."

US points of interest
In Romania, the Americans are interested in the Mihail Kogalniceanu air base, the Babadag training range and the Black Sea military port of Mangalia. In Bulgaria, talks are focusing on the use of the Sarafovo and Graf Ignatievo military airports and the Koren and Novo Selo training areas.

German withdrawal
A senior Romanian official in regular contact with ranking U.S. officials said he was told 15,000 Americans would be withdrawn from Germany in the foreseeable future. "They would be welcome here," the official said.

New roads
At the Mihail Kogalniceanu air base, U.S. contracts have paid for Romanian crews to resurface and widen two roads, build a third and improve landing areas to accommodate the Americans' largest planes.

Central heating
Existing accommodations for up to 6,000 service personnel also have been upgraded with central heating and other amenities, said Col. Victor Luchian, the Romanian commander of the base.

3,000 Americans
About 3,000 Americans, including special operations units, were at the base during the Iraq war, flying troops and weapons directly to the front.
Luchian said that most of them would be gone soon, but that a small crew would remain for maintenance. He shrugged when asked how long they would stay.

"They'll never go"
A senior diplomat was more direct on the American presence. "They'll never go home," he said.
Pascu, Ioan Mircea (M) Politician Romania
Pasi, Solomon (M) Politician Bulgaria
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