Gates backs slower drawdown of US forces in Europe

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WASHINGTON, Oct 30 (Reuters) US Defense Secretary Robert Gates favors slowing down the planned reduction of US forces in Europe but many practical details have yet to be resolved, the Pentagon said Gen. Bantz Craddock, the head of the US military's European Command, asked Gates to reconsider plans to move some forces based in Europe back to the United States.

Craddock's request would delay the redeployment of two combat brigades, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said. A US Army brigade typically has between 3,000 and 5,000 soldiers.

''The secretary is inclined to embrace this request but there are an awful lot of details that have to be worked out still,'' Whitman said yesterday.

US commanders have cited the need to work with and train the forces of European allies as well as concern about a more assertive Russia as reasons for slowing the reduction of US troop levels in Europe.

The Pentagon organizes its operations into geographic commands.

It has been evaluating the proper role of its European Command since the end of the Cold War and has already cut back its military presence on the continent.

The number of US soldiers based in Europe has fallen from about 62,000 two years ago to 50,000 today.

Gen. David McKiernan, commander of the US Army in Europe, said this month the Pentagon planned to go down to about 28,000 and move two of four combat brigades back to the United States.

Whitman said any change in plans for the brigades stationed in Europe would have to be reviewed in conjunction with projects to reorganize military bases in the United States.

''We have a restationing plan, we have to look at that restationing plan,'' he said. ''There's a lot of things that have to be evaluated.'' Asked how long any delay to the redeployment might be, Whitman said that was one of the issues to be examined. He said he was not aware of any time frame proposed by Craddock.

REUTERS BJR PM0420

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