As the U.S. military begins the lengthy process of reducing its presence in Europe and repositioning its forces around the globe, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld heard a pitch Monday for moving a contingent of U.S. troops to a dormant air base near the Black Sea port of Constanta.
Romanian Defense Minister Ioan Mircea Pascu briefed Rumsfeld at midday and gave him a tour of Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base on the country's eastern edge. About 7,000 U.S. forces moved through the base en route to northern Iraq during the U.S.-led invasion.
As Pentagon officials look to create smaller military units that are more flexible and able to deploy quickly in various parts of the world, one goal would be to reduce the number of troops at large bases in Germany and other countries and spread them across Europe and Asia.
The trip to the air base by Rumsfeld, who came to Romania for an informal NATO conference to begin on Tuesday in the Carpathian Mountains, had not been designed as a chance to consider it as a station for U.S. troops. But Pascu took the opportunity to sell the merits of the base to American policymakers, according to a defense official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The defense official said strong consideration will be given to the base because nearly $4 million in U.S. funds already have been spent on improvements there, including a $900,000 security fence and many other infrastructure modifications. A nearby army installation, linked by a local access road, also will be empty and could be used by U.S. forces.
"If we were to come here, we could use it as a substantial training range," the defense official said, adding that a base in Bulgaria could be packaged with the Romanian facility to forge a strong U.S. presence in Eastern Europe.
The Romanian government wants the United States to take over the base in large part because of the financial gains it stands to make. Thousands of U.S. troops could relocate there, bringing cash into a Black Sea resort region that relies on revenue earned during just a few summer months each year.
Rumsfeld started Monday in Skopje, Macedonia, where he met with the nation's defense minister and presented awards to a group of soldiers who saved the lives of U.S. troops in Iraq. The Macedonian government signed an agreement with the United States to cooperate in preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and to promote common military goals. The agreement calls for U.S. aid of $258,000 to the country in equipment and training to better monitor and detect traffic of weapons of mass destruction through the Balkans.