Top commander warns against return to isolationism 

10/10/2011 11:00 AM 

The commander of Army Europe called it “a dangerous strategy to revert to isolationism” as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq wind down.  Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, speaking Oct. 9 at the Association of the United States Army’s Chapter Presidents’ Dinner, said that there are 41,000 American soldiers still assigned to Europe, compared to 213,000 during the Cold War.

Europe remains important to the United States’ continuing fight against al Qaeda, comparing the continent to a hallway the fanatical group uses to carry out terrorist activities in the West.

In addition, Army Europe is providing 20 percent of the deployed forces to Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the peacekeeping mission in Kosovo.

“Prepare and prevail, we’ve been doing a lot of that in the last 10 years.  Ten years ago we started to involve our allies,” Hertling said. “Europe currently makes up 85 percent” of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.  Poland is the largest contributor of forces to ISAF, but even small Estonia has committed 500 soldiers from its 3,000-man force.

“That’s the equivalent of four and a half U.S. brigades,” said Hertling, adding that the Europeans “have suffered significant casualties in this fight.”

Hertling said that one key to success has been the emphasis on increased training together at the Hohenfels and Grafenwoehr installations in a variety of tailored exercises.  The Europeans are also interested in building their noncommissioned officer corps and establishing trained observer/controllers. Speaking about the European armies’ prowess, he said, “they can hunt.”

He added that as the conflicts wind down there will still be a requirement to preventing conflicts, stating “frankly, it costs less.”

“We all must place greater emphasis on allies and regional partners,” Hertling said.

Hertling spoke the day before the formal opening of AUSA’s Annual Meeting and Exposition.