Pentagon to close 21 facilities in Europe

The Pentagon announced Friday it was closing down 21 military facilities in Europe, a move the Department said would save $60 million annually.

The closures were part of a previously-announced effort, but the decision was somewhat unexpected in light of U.S. attempts to reassure European allies in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea.

The closures are comprised mostly of recreational and housing facilities at U.S. and NATO military bases across Europe, such as a skeet shooting range, a hotel and a golf course. But some munitions storage facilities will also be shuttered.

"This is about making sure we have the right footprint, the right posture, and frankly that we're spending taxpayer dollars the right way in Europe," Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said at a press briefing Friday. 

Kirby said it is just the first round of such closures, which are taking place in Germany, Italy, Denmark, Greece, the United Kingdom, and Belgium, and that more would follow. 

"It's all part of a larger process of consolidating our posture there in Europe, and putting our people and our facilities in the most efficient places in the most efficient manner," he said. 

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Lawmakers and some defense experts have criticized the Pentagon for pulling several combat brigades out of Europe over the past year, a move that they say renders the United States less able to protect allies in the face of resurgent Russian aggression. 

A Pentagon statement announcing the move acknowledged that the U.S. military's forward presence is one of the nation's "most visible indicators of support to our European allies, providing assurance and demonstrating tangible commitment to our collective defense."

However, it also said that "U.S. dedication to our NATO security responsibilities is beyond doubt; ongoing infrastructure adjustments simply ensure that we are best-positioned to fulfill those responsibilities given changing circumstances." 

 “None of these adjustments affects existing force structure or military capabilities, and the efficiencies will further enable U.S. European Command to resource high priority missions,” Kirby said in an earlier statement.