Washington, May 13: The US military, consumed by the burgeoning demands of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is to save $6.7 billion a year by closing 150 bases in America and realigning its forces world-wide, the Pentagon announced today.
The announcement comes three days after the Senate passed an emergency bill sanctioning war expenses of $82 billion. The latest legislative sanction has taken the cost of the invasion of Iraq past $200 billion, but the military top brass warned Congress that they would seek at least two supplemental emergency funding requests before the end of the current financial year in October.
All in all, the cost of the war, it is estimated here, will cross half a trillion dollars by 2010, a severe drain on the US economy at a time of unprecedented budget deficit, a soaring trade deficit and prospects of a declining dollar.
Defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who forwarded the Pentagon’s recommendations to a nine-member Base Realignment and Closure Commission, which began work on May 3, tried to put the best face on the trimming of the US defence apparatus.
“Our current arrangements, designed for the Cold War, must give way to the new demands of the war against extremism and other evolving 21st century challenges,” he said.
President George W. Bush will take a decision on the closure of bases by September 23 and Congress will then have the option to reject the recommendations in its entirety. The closure of bases within the US is a political hot potato both for Bush and Congress.
One site that is proposed to be closed, for example, is the Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, the state’s second largest employer. It is home to 29 B-1B bombers, half the US Air Force fleet of this aircraft. Bush’s home state of Texas would lose 15 facilities, Pennsylvania 13, Alabama and California 11 each and New York nine.
On the whole, 218,570 military and civilian jobs would be pulled out in the process, but the Pentagon claimed that 189,565 new jobs would be added elsewhere. This figure gives only a partial picture of how entire communities, which depend on military bases, would be affected by a spin-off of the closures and relocations and the resulting loss of economic activity.
Senators and Congressmen whose constituents will lose their livelihood are expected to fight the proposals tooth and nail.
Even before the process of base closures was embarked upon, Bush clashed with Senator Trent Lott, the former Republican floor leader, who has been fighting to keep a naval station in his home town of Pascagoula in Mississippi. It is one of the bases recommended for closure today.