Some 5,000 American troops will be deployed on several military sites in Bulgaria and Romania next year as part of a Pentagon plan to create new, flexible bases in Eastern Europe, a U.S. diplomat said Tuesday. Jeffrey Levine, Deputy U.S. Ambassador to Bulgaria, said that the troops will be deployed on a rotational basis in shared military facilities in both countries.
"The troops will be divided between the bases in neighboring Bulgaria and Romania which gives the opportunity to practice command and control over quite a large area," Levine told the Associated Press.
He estimated that 2,700 troops will be deployed in Bulgaria, while Romania will host around 2,300 troops, as well as the joint command of the whole unit.
In Bulgaria, the troops will be deployed at the Bezmer air base and the Novo Selo training area in southeastern Bulgaria. Both sites have been chosen because of their convenient location close to the Black Sea port of Burgas.
The planned use of shared military facilities for deployment of troops on rotational training tours is part of a broader U.S. strategy of shifting troops based in Europe further east. Washington is interested in small, flexible bases, different from those set up to house large numbers of troops during the Cold War.
"We are talking about six-month rotational tours of the American forces deployed in Bulgaria, during which period the troops would likely go in and out of Bulgaria two or three times with the training focused on deployment," Levine said.
He did not rule out that Bulgaria could be used as a springboard for American troops to be sent to missions in crisis regions, even though that has provoked public concern in Bulgaria, according to the AP.
"If there's a large exercise going on in Bulgaria and something occurred and we need to take people directly from here to wherever in the world, we would be looking for the right to do that," Levine said.
Bulgaria, which joined NATO last year along with six other ex-communist nations and has been a staunch ally of the United States in the anti-terror campaign, hopes that military cooperation will enhance national security and boost foreign investments.
"We believe that U.S. military presence is attractive to investors as another guarantor of Bulgaria's stability," the diplomat said.
According to Levine, the United States has provided Bulgaria since 1989 with military assistance worth US$100 million and some US$500 million in economic assistance.