ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT – Ground forces will remain important to the U.S. defense strategy, but the employment of the forces will change, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said Thursday.
In an interview on his way to Fort Bliss, Texas, Panetta said that the Army will withdraw two brigade combat teams from Europe, while retaining a strong presence in the region via rotational units.
The change is part of a new, 10-year defense strategy announced by President Barack Obama last week that emphasizes air-sea doctrine to better allow the United States to confront more than one threat at a time, Panetta said. Still, ground forces will remain important, and soldiers and Marines will continue to deploy to Afghanistan and be on the Korean Peninsula and partnering with nations around the globe.
“We will continue to maintain our presence both in the Middle East and Asia,” the secretary said. “Yes, we’ll have the Navy and the Air Force, but in my experience, in any conflict you need to have the potential use of ground forces.”
Panetta said he is excited about the prospect of using Army units on a rotational basis, just as Special Forces and the Marine Corps do. “Getting the Army to deploy to areas conducting exercises providing, most of all, a partnership with countries in Latin America, Africa, other countries where we can show the flag” is important, he said.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno is particularly excited about the ability to develop that rotational capability, Panetta said. “It will keep the ground forces very meaningful in the future,” he said.
As the Army replaces the two brigade combat teams with rotational units, the Europeans actually will see more U.S. forces because the American forces in Europe have more often than not been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, Panetta said.
DOD officials have spoken to European leaders about the withdrawal and they understand why the change will be good for the U.S. military and NATO allies, senior defense officials traveling with the secretary said.