Panetta discusses further US troop cuts in Europe

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, October 13, 2011

From Thom Shanker and Elisabeth Bumiller, the New York Times:  Under orders to cut the Pentagon budget by more than $450 billion over the next decade, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta is considering reductions in spending categories once thought sacrosanct, especially in medical and retirement benefits, as well as further shrinking the number of troops and reducing new weapons purchases.

Mr. Panetta, a former White House budget chief, acknowledged in an interview that he faced deep political pressures as he weighed cuts to Pentagon spending, which has doubled to $700 billion a year since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He said that meeting deficit-reduction targets might require another round of base closings, which could be highly contentious as members of Congress routinely fight to protect military deployments and jobs in their communities.

Among other steps, Mr. Panetta said, Pentagon strategists were looking at additional cuts in the nuclear arsenal, with an eye toward determining how many warheads the military needed to deter attacks.

Mr. Panetta also held out the possibility of cutting the number of American troops based in Europe, with the United States compensating for any withdrawal by helping NATO allies improve their militaries. That effort would free up money so the United States could maintain or increase its forces in Asia, a high priority for the Obama administration, and sustain a presence in the Persian Gulf after the withdrawal from Iraq this year, he said.

In a 40-minute interview on Friday, Mr. Panetta offered the most detailed description to date of his plans to cut and reshape the military to fit a smaller budget — while still protecting national security interests and taking care of military personnel and their families. . . . 

The administration’s more than $450 billion in cuts would reduce the military budget by roughly 7 or 8 percent over the next 10 years, even beyond the spending reductions that would come from the withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan, according to government budget projections. 

Although Pentagon spending stands at about $700 billion this year, the Defense Department’s base operating budget is about $530 billion, with the rest allocated by Congress for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pentagon officials predict that total Defense Department spending will drop to $522.5 billion by 2017. 

Mr. Panetta outlined a series of guiding principles for where to invest and where to cut. He pledged to maintain and even increase spending in areas that have redefined the American way of war in recent years. They include cyberoffense and defense, unmanned aircraft, known as drones, and Special Operations forces — like those who killed Osama bin Laden and who also train foreign militaries to battle insurgencies so the United States does not have to.  (photo: Getty)

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