US Defense Secretary Mark Esper speaks at an event. File photo
US Defense Secretary Mark Esper suggested on Thursday he could be ready to start a highly anticipated global force repositioning this year as part of an effort to refocus the Pentagon on challenges from China and Russia.
Esper said he did not want to put a firm timeline on the completion of his so-called "defense-wide review," which is expected to trigger those troop movements.
"If I had to put an end-date (on the review), I want to make sure we are in some type of better posture by the beginning of the next fiscal year," Esper told reporters, referring to the government's calendar year for spending, which begins on Oct. 1. "So I want to move fairly quickly."
Esper made the remarks during a trip to Miami as he began a review of military missions in Latin America, part of a sweeping global examination of deployments that he hopes will allow him to redirect more forces to Asia and send others back to the United States from overseas.
Many experts say the effort is overdue, given military advances in China during the past two decades as America focused on counter-terrorism operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and elsewhere.
Still, at a time of heightened tension with Iran and Iran-backed groups, it's unclear how big of a shift can be expected, particularly in an election year.
The review is being closely watched by proponents of US military engagement in Latin America and Africa - two of the typically worst-resourced regions for the US military.
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The meeting in Riyadh, where Esper arrived late on Monday after an unannounced visit to Afghanistan, also took in defence issues and the current situation in the region.
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