Pentagon lists US bases to be axed

AMID WARNINGS of serious hardship for the affected communities, the Pentagon yesterday released a list of 31 major military installations around the US that it is recommending for early closure as part of defence spending cuts.

Though it had largely been leaked in advance, the announcement still rocked the areas where the bases are located and which in many cases are virtually dependent on the military for economic survival. Eight of the 31 are in California, which is already suffering from defence cutbacks.

As the list was made public, President Bill Clinton, accompanied by the Defense Secretary, Les Aspin, was paying a symbolic visit to the USS Theodore Roosevelt, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in the Atlantic, one day out from the port of Norfolk, Virginia, on its way to the Mediterranean.

The three-hour tour of the ship was a clear attempt by the White House to counter suggestions that it is anti-military.

That impression, partly created by Mr Clinton's avoidance of service during the Vietnam war, may be reinforced by the closures as well as the President's policy on allowing homosexuals into the ranks of the armed forces.

In a written statement that accompanied the list's release, Mr Aspin said that the new closures were made necessary by budget cuts ordered by President Bush.

A further, probably more severe, pruning round is planned for 1995. Mr Clinton's budget calls for a troop level of 1.4 million in 1997 - 200,000 fewer than planned by Mr Bush.

'Failure to close bases in line with reductions in budgets and personnel constitutes a double hit,' Mr Aspin said. 'Resources are drained into bases we don't need and therefore are not available to buy the things we need.' The Pentagon estimates that closing the 31 installations will save roughly dollars 3.1bn ( pounds 2.1bn) a year, beginning in the year 2000.

Intense lobbying by members of Congress to win reprieves for bases in their home areas will now switch to an eight-member presidential panel which will consider the Pentagon list before making its recommendations to Mr Clinton in July. The President is not expected to endorse the closures until September and his decision must be approved by Congress.

The military have long been busy shutting down some of the many US bases abroad, especially in Europe. None of these closures featured on yesterday's list, however, because they are the military's own responsibility and do not need approval by the presidential commission.

Among the most significant bases targeted yesterday are Fort McClellan in Alabama, the Mare Island Naval Shipyard and Naval Station Treasure Island in California and the Charleston Naval Shipyard in South Carolina. Also on the list is the Homestead Air Force base, hit last year by the south Florida Hurricane. Two California bases that had been on an earlier draft won a last-minute reprieve.