U.S. to Scale Back War Games in Europe
The Pentagon, in a move designed to save money and quell West Germans’ discontent over the massive U.S. military presence in their country, announced Wednesday that it will scale back the principal military maneuvers that annually train American troops for a full-scale deployment to Europe in the event of war.
Under the shift, the Pentagon will cancel its planned 1989 “Reforger” exercise, normally conducted each year, and scale back future Reforger exercises.
Reforger, short for “Return of Forces to Germany,” has taken place at roughly yearly intervals since 1967, when Britain and the United States withdrew some of their ground troops and aircraft crews from West Germany. In making the withdrawals, the allies promised to send the forces back regularly as proof of the Western commitment to defend West Germany from a Soviet attack.
The Pentagon billed the change announced Wednesday as an “enhancement,” noting that the new exercise plan will permit the U.S. Army in Europe to train more efficiently. But Defense Department officials acknowledged that the changes were prompted by tight budgets and by the outcry in West Germany, where the United States has 250,000 servicemen and women, over the hazards that military training poses to the public.
The change also comes in the wake of Soviet announcements promising unilateral troop reductions in Eastern Europe. Throughout Western Europe, the Soviet proposals have raised hopes that the two superpowers and their allies will soon begin to dismantle their forces confronting each other at the borders of East and West Germany.
“There’s obviously some political dimension here,” said a senior Defense Department official. The source added that some Administration officials are concerned that the reduction could send a signal of faltering U.S. commitment to the allies at a critical time in East-West relations.
NATO Leader’s Proposal
But military officials said that the move is “purely monetary” and that they could train soldiers to fight in Europe more cheaply by making better use of computerized simulators and smaller-scale exercises. The cutback was proposed by Gen. William M. Galvin, the supreme commander of North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces, and it had the enthusiastic backing of West German officials, according to a source in the Defense Department.
“We’re continually looking for ways to improve our training techniques, to get the maximum value from the funding available and to minimize the impact of our training on the local population and the environment,” said Defense Department spokesman Mel Sundin. “Our goal is always to train ‘smarter,’ not less.”
The Pentagon will conduct a smaller maneuver, called “Caravan Guard,” next September to test its new training techniques. About 35,000 U.S. troops are expected to participate in that maneuver, which will take place at the customary time and place of Reforger. The 1990 Reforger exercises are expected to involve about 75,000 soldiers, a somewhat smaller number than such maneuvers in the past.
In recent months, West Germans have become increasingly critical of the operations of U.S. and allied military forces based in Germany after a series of military accidents that claimed extensive casualties among civilians. Following the crash of a U.S. military jet in Remscheid, West Germany, which killed five German civilians and the pilot, NATO headquarters decided to briefly suspend low-level flying exercises.
The thousands of tanks that crisscross harvested fields during the Reforger exercises cause considerable damage to land and property throughout West Germany. The United States compensates German civilians, but citizen complaints have increased in recent years.