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Gary Younge
US to pull back troops from Asia and Europe

The countries most likely to be affected will be Germany, where the Pentagon is considering removing two army divisions and replacing them with smaller, more mobile units, and South Korea, where the US plans to withdraw a third of its 37,000 troops.

The announcement had been years in the planning and followed debate within the administration on how the US should respond to changing security demands.

The decision, which will also affect about 100,000 military family members and civilian employees, is likely to be greeted warmly by military families, but will have no bearing on the 150,000 US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Speaking at a meeting of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Cincinnati, Ohio, Mr Bush said: "The world has changed a great deal and our posture must change with it for the sake of our military families, for the sake of our taxpayers and so we can be more effective at projecting our strength.

"Our service members will have more time on the home front and more predictability and fewer moves over a career. The world has changed and we must change with it."

Democrats criticised the move as an electioneering stunt which would "undermine US national security".

In a statement released by the Democratic National Committee, Wesley Clark, a former supreme commander of Nato, said: "This ill-conceived move and its timing seem politically motivated rather than designed to strengthen our national security."

In London the Ministry of Defence said: "The UK government and Nato have been consulted as part of the US global review but it is too early to say what impact there will be on US deployments in the UK until the US government has completed further work."

The plan will be put into practice sometime between 2006 and 2011 and a US military official in Berlin said it could require further negotiation.

Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary, hinted at the change earlier this month. "We've decided that it's time to shift our posture in Europe and Asia and around the world and move from static defence, which does not make much sense today, to a more deployable and usable set of capabilities."

Senator Richard Lugar, the chair of the Senate's foreign relations committee, said: "This is a fundamental change and is a change probably in the tactics of our military, so that our people will be more mobile, more available at other places all over the Earth."

Charles Heyman, senior defence analyst for Jane's Consultancy Group, said it was consistent with the threat faced by the US that the troops should be withdrawn.

"It does signify a change in the old order, particularly in Europe. It means Europeans are going to have to think very carefully about how Europe is defended in the years to come," he said.

"There many not be any real threats at the moment, but there is still massive instability in the Balkans that could degenerate very quickly."

He said it was difficult to justify US troop levels in Germany, especially since the end of the cold war, but European countries might find the redeployment worrying since "it is effectively the US saying to Europe that it will have to spend its own money on defence and keep their house in order".

As far as Asia was concerned, he said, most of the withdrawals would be from South Korea, which had the capability to defend itself.

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