BERLIN (AP) – Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced Tuesday that he is expanding the US military presence in Germany by 500 troops and has stopped planning large-scale troop reductions ordered by the Trump administration.
“This planned increase in US personnel underscores our commitment to Germany and the entire NATO alliance,” Austin said in a vital match to the Trump administration’s repeated complaints that Germany is a weak partner in defense and security.
Austin made the announcement following talks with German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer on his first visit to Europe since becoming head of the Pentagon in January.
Kramp-Karrenbauer welcomed the announcement as a “strong signal” of healthy US-German relations.
They also discussed President Joe Biden’s pending decision on whether to withdraw completely from Afghanistan by May 1, a deadline the Trump administration promised to Taliban militants. Germany is an important part of the US-led coalition in Afghanistan.
Austin told a joint press conference with Kramp-Karrenbauer that an additional 500 US troops would be stationed permanently in Germany’s Wiesbaden area at the beginning of this fall.
“These forces will strengthen deterrence and defense in Europe. They will enhance our existing capabilities to prevent conflict, and, if necessary, fight and win, “Austin said in his remarks.
“This move will also create more space, more cyberspace, and more electronic warfare capabilities in Europe,” he added, and he said it would “greatly enhance our ability to increase power right away to defend our allies.”
Last year, President Donald Trump ordered the withdrawal of 12,000 troops from Germany in retaliation for what he considers Germany’s refusal to spend more on its own defense. Austin suspended that move shortly after taking office. He said the decision on troop numbers would be made as part of a comprehensive review of the US military presence around the world, including in Europe.
Austin’s announcement on Tuesday is the first concrete indication he cannot implement Trump’s decisions, including moving the headquarters of US European Command from Germany to Belgium.
The US currently has about 35,000 troops in Germany.
Asked by a reporter whether the decision to add 500 troops meant Washington would not carry out Trump’s move, Austin said the Pentagon had “stopped planning” for troop cuts.
The German minister said he got the word from Biden that “there will not be a troop reduction as previously planned.”
“Today I received the delightful announcement and assurance from Secretary Austin that, in exchange, 500 more will be stationed here,” he said. “That’s how it should be between good friends and partners – you give each other your word and stick to it.”
Associated Press writer Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.
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