Pentagon Review: Less Troops on the Ground

5 January 2012 Last updated at 10:43 ET, BBC News

Pentagon military review ‘will axe US troops’

The US is to axe thousands of troops as part of a far-reaching defence review aimed at coping with huge budget cuts over the next decade, officials say.

The changes – to be unveiled on Thursday – are likely to end a decades-old policy of maintaining the strength to fight two wars at once.

President Barack Obama will announce the plans with Defence Secretary Leon Panetta at the Pentagon on Thursday.

The Pentagon faces more than $450bn (£288bn) in cuts in the next 10 years.

Another $500bn in cuts could be looming at the beginning of 2013, after a congressional committee failed to act on finding budget savings last year.

Despite this Mr Obama, wary of the upcoming presidential election, is expected to emphasise that the US military budget is continuing to grow, albeit at a slower pace.

US officials have sought to portray the president as taking a deliberate approach to defence spending, insisting any troop reductions will be informed by a review of strategy by commanders.

White House spokesman Jay Carney described the planned cuts as “surgical”. The president is also reported to have been closely involved in the decision-making process.

No specific cuts or troop reduction figures will be announced on Thursday, reports say, but the White House said the review “will guide our budget priorities and decisions going forward”.

Reuters news agency says officials are considering a 10-15% reduction in the US Army and Marine Corps over 10 years – equivalent to tens of thousands of troops.

Future in Asia

The US is expected to make several large long-term strategic changes as a result of budget pressures, including reducing the overall number of ground troops and strengthening air and naval power in Asia.

BBC diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus says more US troops are likely to be brought home from Europe.

Our correspondent says the focus for the future looks to be on what the Pentagon calls “the Air-Sea Battle” – the creation of forces capable of containing a rising military player in the Asia-Pacific region. He says it is clearly China that the US officials are thinking of.

Defence Secretary Leon Panetta made clear last autumn that Asia would be central to US security strategy, including countering China’s influence in the region, describing the Pacific as a “key priority”.

Backing away from a potential two-war footing has been debated in the Pentagon for years.

In June 2001, then-Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told Congress the two-war strategy was “not working”.

And when the US was in fact fighting two wars – in Iraq and Afghanistan – the military suffered a shortage of manpower.

The expected change in strategy would prepare the US to fight one war while waging a holding operation elsewhere to “spoil” a second threat.

Officials say they are using recent examples to guide their decisions.

“As Libya showed, you don’t necessarily have to have boots on the ground all the time,” an unnamed official told Reuters. “We are refining our strategy to something that is more realistic.”

Yet many of the Nato allies in Libya are facing similarly tight defence budgets, and Mr Obama is likely to face criticism from defence hawks in Congress, including Republicans and those seeking to challenge him for the presidency in November.

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White House Sticking to Iraq Troop Timetable

White House sticks to Iraq troop timetable after day on which 70 are killed

By Ian Swanson – 08/15/11 02:55 PM ET, The Hill

The White House said Monday there are no changes in the timetable for U.S. forces to leave Iraq on a day in which attacks killed more than 70 people in the country.

U.S. troops are scheduled to leave Iraq in December under the status of forces agreement between the two countries, though it is possible some forces could remain in Iraq if that country’s government requests them.

“Obviously there have been attacks and we strongly condemn them,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday on Air Force One.Carney noted that the general trend in Iraq is decreasing violence, but signaled the Obama administration would consider keeping some forces in Iraq if that country’s government wanted U.S. soldiers to remain.

“It doesn’t change where we are in the process of drawing down our troops or change the fact that we are, as we have said, in discussions with the Iraqis,” Carney said of the latest violence. “And if they make some kind of request, we would consider it.”

While President Obama is focused on the economy during a three-day barnstorming trip through the Midwest on a presidential bus, foreign policy worries, mostly centered on the Middle East, are taking up his time.

The White House is reportedly considering asking Syrian President Assad to resign amid growing violence in that country, and U.S. forces continue to back-up NATO assaults on Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s regime in Libya.

Meanwhile, U.S. forces are slowly departing from both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Next year’s presidential election is expected to focus on the economy, but Monday’s violence in Iraq is a reminder of the unpredictability of the conflicts the U.S. is involved in across the region.

On Syria, Obama had phone conversations over the last several days with the leaders of Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom. He has also spoken with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Carney said the White House is looking “together with a broad array of international partners” to increase pressure on Assad.

He added that it is “becoming increasingly clear” that Gadhafi’s days are numbered as his “isolation … grows more extreme.”

The violence in Iraq took place after the beginning of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which had ushered in a period of relative calm in the country in the past.