Joint Chiefs Chair Says Permanent Overseas Basing Needs Reconsideration
Meghann Myers / Military Times
(December 2020) — The military’s top officer, and the president’s senior military adviser, is joining a growing chorus of senior defense officials who have questioned the need for permanently stationing troops around the world.
Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, shared concerns on Thursday that the post-World War II/Cold War-era model of sending troops and their families overseas for years-long tours is no longer the best idea.
“I think it’s time we take a hard look at that,” Milley said during remarks at the virtual Washington Defense Forum. “I think we have too much infrastructure overseas, and too much permanent infrastructure.”
That large and obvious presence is an insurance policy for some allies, he said, as it makes them feel safe from adversaries like Russia, China and North Korea.
“But I think from a strategic standpoint and an operational standpoint, I’m not so sure that is a strong move,” he added,
That presence puts a target on American troops, and more importantly, the families they bring with them to duty stations in Japan, Korea, Germany and more.
“I have a problem with that,” he said. “I don’t have a problem with us, those of us in uniform, being in harm’s way ― this is what we get paid for. This is what our job is, right?”
The answer is probably more rotational deployments, he added, like those that already happen in Korea, Germany and Guam, where US-based units forward deploy for nine months, or so, without making a full permanent change-of-station move.
The Defense Department has been making baby steps in that direction for several years, with the Army’s brigade rotations to Korea and Germany, and, more recently, the Air Force’s bomber task force to Guam, among others.
Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper in July announced another push in that direction, calling for the draw down of the Germany-based 2nd Cavalry Regiment back to the US, to be replaced by another heel-to-toe rotation that would forward deploy to Eastern Europe.
That model has also been on the table for the Indo-Pacific, where most US troops are stationed on full-service bases with their families, in northeast Asia.
But DoD is looking to spread that out as it continues to manage China’s growing influence in that massive swath of the world, taking a look at rotational deployments to train with smaller countries like Palau, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Papua New Guinea and others.
“I don’t think we’re looking to have fixed bases in fixed places, right?” an INDOPACOM official told reporters in Hawaii in early September.
If there are, Milley said Thursday, they should have an express strategic purpose, rather than out of tradition.
“That will be a major muscle movement for the Department of Defense,” he said. “And, frankly, there’s not a lot of enthusiasm to do what I just said, but I do think that’s necessary.”
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.
Defense Bill Seeks to Halt Afghanistan Drawdown
(December 3, 2020) — The compromise defense policy bill released Thursday includes language aimed at preventing a withdrawal from Afghanistan amid President Trump’s order to cut US forces there to 2,500 by mid-January.
The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) would block funding to reduce the number of troops in Afghanistan until the Pentagon, State Department and director of national intelligence assess how a drawdown would affect threats to the United States, among other criteria.
The assessment would be required before troops can drop below the number there when the bill becomes law and again before troops can drop below 2,000.
“The conferees reaffirm that it is in the national security interests of the United States to deny terrorists safe haven in Afghanistan, protect the United States homeland, uphold the United States partnership with the Government of Afghanistan, and protect the hard-fought gains for the rights of women, girls, and other vulnerable populations in Afghanistan,” said the compromise, known as a conference report.
“The administration has a constitutional obligation to provide the Congress and the American people with regular, timely and comprehensive information on the status of security operations and diplomatic efforts in Afghanistan and across the globe,” the conference report added.
In November, Trump ordered the military to cut the number of troops in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 by Jan. 15, days before he is set to leave office.
President-elect Joe Biden has said he would withdraw most troops from Afghanistan, but leave a small contingent of special forces there to conduct counterterrorism missions.
Trump has continued to push forward with drawing down in Afghanistan even as US and military officials have said the Taliban has yet to meet the commitments it agreed to in February.
The US-Taliban deal, signed in February, calls for a full US withdrawal by this coming May if the Taliban upholds counterterrorism commitments such as denying safe haven to al Qaeda.
In addition to not yet breaking with al Qaeda, the Taliban has stepped up attacks against Afghan forces, drawing condemnation from US officials.
The initial House-passed version of the NDAA included language similar to what was agreed to in the compromise bill.
The Senate’s version included language warning against a “precipitous” withdrawal in Afghanistan, but did not have a provision matching the House’s requirement for certifications before drawing down in Afghanistan.
The Afghanistan language is among several rebukes of Trump that made it into the bipartisan NDAA.
The bill includes language aimed at constraining Trump’s ability to withdraw thousands of US troops from Germany.
It also includes a requirement for the Pentagon to rename Confederate-named bases and excludes a repeal of a tech liability shield, both areas over which Trump has threatened to veto the bill.
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