Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Powell: Reassigning troops is necessary

By Howard Wilkinson
Enquirer staff writer

The global military restructuring that President Bush announced Monday makes sense in a world where the principal threat to America is from terrorists, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Monday.

In a meeting with the Enquirer editorial board, Powell said the United States has been discussing troop pullouts from nations such as Germany and South Korea for at least 18 months.

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"We have to realize now the Cold War is over,'' said Powell, who came to Cincinnati to speak to the 105th national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. "It's time we rationalize the force structure.''

President Bush was in town earlier Monday, telling veterans that about 70,000 troops stationed in Europe and Asia will be moved to U.S. military bases in the next decade.

Among the largest units to be moved back to U.S. bases will be the 1st Armored Division and the 1st Infantry Division, both of which have served in Iraq. They are now based in Germany, a nation that opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq last year.

Powell, a retired four-star general and former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said the restructuring has nothing to do with politics or retribution, as retired Gen. Wesley Clark, a former candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, suggested Monday.

"I don't think we cement our relations with other countries by the number of troops we have in their countries,'' Powell said.

The secretary of state said that when he was chairman of the joint chiefs under President George H.W. Bush, he presided over the removal of more than 200,000 troops from Europe.

Monday evening, Powell told about 2,500 veterans and their spouses at a VFW banquet that the enemy he and many of them were trained to fight - Soviet communism - is long gone, replaced by a "new and deadly'' enemy: global terrorism.

"Terrorism is the tyranny of the 21st century,'' Powell said. "And thanks to the leadership of President Bush, nations all over the world have come together to fight the scourge.''

Powell said U.S. military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan "have already set 55 million people free.''

Powell, who Bush sent to the United Nations to lay out the case against Saddam Hussein, said that while the stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons thought to be in Iraq have never been found, there is no doubt the Iraqi dictator was willing to develop and use them unless stopped.

"That is not a risk President Bush was willing take,'' Powell told the veterans.

With the Enquirer editorial board, Powell said his impression of the new Iraqi government is that "they want to build up their own capabilities as soon as possible, so they can say, 'You can go home, everybody can go home, and we will do it for ourselves.'''

The one mistake the U.S. may have made in planning for postwar Iraq, Powell said, "was that we didn't sense how stubborn the elements still loyal to the former regime might be.''

The insurgency in Iraq, Powell said, "is serious and it must be defeated.''

"We have in Iraq 25 million people who want to be free, who want to elect their own leaders,'' Powell said. "We can't let them be denied that because of one cleric in Najaf who has a small militia.''


E-mail hwilkinson@enquirer.com

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