But diplomatic hurdles slow moves
Stars & Stripes
Monday, February 17, 2003
By Kent Harris and Jon Anderson
Two ground combat units from Germany — both from the 1st Infantry Division — have been put on notice to deploy to Turkey. But diplomatic hurdles must be cleared before they and other units on notice will reach their destinations.
Gear and heavy equipment for the 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment and the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment — both based in Schweinfurt — has started moving to ports in the Netherlands, with planned transhipment to Turkey, according to an Army official.
"They have received deployment orders to move equipment in support of CENTCOM operations," said Maj. Mark Ballesteros, 1st ID spokesman.
The orders affect "about 1,500 troops," he said.
Some 2,000 1st ID troops were ordered to Turkey two weeks ago, but only now are beginning to move because of tie-ups with the Turkish and Austrian governments. 1st ID is expected to provide the headquarters for the Army’s logistics effort in Turkey, paving the way for combat forces to roll into northern Iraq.
An additional 2,000 soldiers from the Germany-based 21st Theater Support Command have also been on standby, waiting for the diplomatic snags to be ironed out.
Last week, the Turkish parliament gave approval for support troops to enter the country, but further approvals are needed and a decision by the Austrian government has slowed down the buildup of American forces in the region.
Citing its long-standing policy of neutrality, Austria has rejected requests by American military officials to ship troops and equipment through — and over — the country.
That move effectively means the United States has to find alternate — and likely longer — routes to get soldiers and supplies based in Germany around the Alps and on the way to Turkey and other countries in the region.
Ute Axmann, a spokeswoman for the Austrian defense ministry, termed the decision to turn away the troops and equipment "nothing new."
She said it is a continuation of a policy the Austrians — who are not members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization — have followed for decades. Austria has made exceptions to that rule when forces are under U.N. mandates, she said.
So Axmann said if a decision to use force is made in the United Nations, the country might reverse its stance.
She said the decision does not affect American military flights and convoys still supporting the missions in Kosovo and Bosnia.
EUCOM officials did not address this issue on Friday, but during testimony Thursday before Congress, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld spoke about the roadblocks the United States is facing.
"… [R]ight now, for example, we’re trying to move some forces from Germany down to Italy, and Austria’s causing a difficulty with respect to moving the forces through Austria by rail, which means we may have to go up to Rotterdam [the Netherlands] or possibly by train through two or three or four countries instead of directly," he said.
With anti-war feelings — especially strong in NATO allies Germany, France and Belgium — his statement on Austria was picked up around the continent.
"U.S. criticism also on Austria!" read a front-page headline in the Kronen Zeitung newspaper, according to The Associated Press.
But Axmann said the government’s reaction was a lot more subdued.
"We did not see it as an offense," she said. "We take a more global view."
Since 1995, the country estimates it has accommodated about 7,200 convoys of trucks — about half American — and almost 2,000 trainloads of equipment — about 80 percent American — in support of missions in Bosnia and Kosovo.