U.S. to pull 2 combat brigades out of Europe

Maj. Gen. Dana Pittard, left, Commander of Fort Bliss and the 1st Armored Division leads Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta into a helicopter hanger during Panetta's visit to Fort Bliss, Jan. 12, 2012 in El Paso, Texas. AP

FORT BLISS, Texas - Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Thursday the Army will withdraw two combat brigades from Europe as part of a broad reorienting of U.S. forces and instead rotate units in and out of the region, presumably from U.S. bases.

Panetta made the comment to a Defense Department news service whose representative was traveling with him to Fort Bliss. He told the Armed Forces Press Service on board his plane that the Army will do more rotational movement of combat forces not only in Europe but also in Africa and Latin America. "It will keep the ground forces very meaningful in the future," he was quoted as saying.

Last week, the Pentagon announced a new defense strategy to accommodate hundreds of billions of dollars in budget cuts over the coming decade. At the time, Panetta said that the military will get smaller and that its presence in Europe would "evolve." But he declined then to discuss what that would mean for the long-standing U.S. presence in Europe.

A combat brigade typically consists of 3,000 to 4,000 soldiers.

Later, Panetta addressed about 500 soldiers and their family members at the sprawling Fort Bliss Army post, ensuring them that their benefits will not be affected by the announced budget cuts to the military.

Pledging that the Defense Department would not break faith with those who have served, Panetta said: "You are the heart and soul of the future of the military."

On the threat posed by Iran, the defense secretary said the country undermines governments in the region and is developing nuclear capabilities.

But in answer to a soldier's question about the possibility of a military strike on Iran, he said sanctions on Iran "are having an impact on the economy and governance" of the country.

"The world community is unified, but we have to make sure we are ready for any situation and have all options on the table," Panetta said.

There are two red lines that Tehran cannot cross, he said. "We can't allow them to develop nuclear capabilities and the other red line is they can't block the Strait of Hormuz," the strategic waterway in the Persian Gulf.

"We must keep all capabilities ready in the event those lines are crossed," he added.

It was Panetta's first visit to a large military installation since taking office in June.

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