WASHINGTON (AP) – Encouraged by President Donald Trump’s request to pull troops out of GermanyThe United States will bring about 6,400 troops home and shift around 5,600 to other countries in Europe, US defense leaders said Wednesday, detailing Pentagon plans that would cost billions of dollars and take years to complete.
The decision fulfilled Trump’s desire to withdraw troops from Germany, largely because of his failure to spend enough money on defense. A number of troops will go to Italy, and a major step will shift the headquarters of the US European Command and European Special Operations Command from Stuttgart, Germany, to Belgium.
The future of the plan is uncertain, at least, because it depends on support and funding from Congress, and a number of members have voiced opposition. And that probably won’t last at all if Trump isn’t re-elected.
MPs have condemned cutting troops as a gift to Russia driven by Trump’s grudge in Germany. But Defense Secretary Mark Esper defended the plan on Wednesday, saying that while the decision was “accelerated” by Trump’s orders, the move also promoted greater strategic objectives to prevent Russia, reassure European allies and shift troops further east to the Sea Black and the Baltic region.
“We are moving troops from central Europe, Germany, where they have been since the Cold War,” Esper said, adding that it would shift US forces eastward, closer to Russia, “where our latest allies are.”
Trump, however, reiterated his very narrow reasons on Wednesday, telling reporters, “We reduced strength because they did not pay their bills. This is very simple. They are delinquents. “He added that he might rethink the decision to pull troops out of Germany” if they start paying their bills. “
Trump has repeatedly accused Germany of failing to pay bills, which is a misstatement of the problem. NATO countries have pledged to dedicate 2% of their gross domestic product to defense spending by 2024, and Germany still lacks that goal, around 1.4%.
Esper said the military move would cost “one digit” billions of dollars, although bringing troops home could reap some savings in future placements. Smaller units can move in a few months, and the plan is to leave around 24,000 troops in Germany.
Twenty-two Republicans at the House Armed Forces Committee sent a letter to Trump saying the reduced US commitment to European defense would encourage Russian aggression. And Senator Mitt Romney, R-Utah, on Wednesday called the plan a “big mistake,” saying it was a slap in the face of Germany that would endanger American interests.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, meanwhile, welcomed the US move and said Washington had consulted with allies on this issue recently. Trump’s announcement of a withdrawal in June blinded the alliance.
The German Ministry of Defense declined to comment on the move, saying the plan needed to be discussed internally first. Chancellor Angela Merkel has defended German defense spending, saying that it has improved and that the country will continue to work towards a 2% benchmark.
Under the plan, the Air Force’s 52nd Civil Engineering Squadron could be the first to move, going from Germany to Italy, said General Tod Wolters, head of the U … S. European Command. The F-16 Air Force Squadron and several other small units are also scheduled to go to Italy,
Following the announcement, a lawmaker with the opposition Left Party, which is rooted in the former East German communist party and has long urged the withdrawal of American troops, said the plan was “still far from enough.”
“The war was waged throughout the world through the US base in Germany, including drone strikes that violated international law,” said Tobias Pflueger, deputy party leader with Kiri.
The Pentagon announcement is closely related to plans to increase the presence of US troops in Poland, a change that Warsaw and the Polish President Andrzej Duda have long desired.
Officials said the troop move would require construction at bases in the US, specifically to accommodate the Army’s 2nd Cavalry Regiment, based in Vilseck, Germany and will now return to an undetermined location.
Germany is the center of US operations in the Middle East and Africa. The decision to retain nearly half of the troops in Europe is a clear step by the Pentagon to defuse allies by avoiding a total withdrawal of 12,000 troops from the region. And by spreading power to the east, he sent a message to Russia that the US did not reduce its commitment to the region and remained prepared to protect Eastern Europe from Moscow aggression.
Senator Jim Inhofe, Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has voiced support for the plan and also acknowledged that it would take “months to plan and years to be executed.”
Trump announced last month that he wanted to cut the number of active duty US troops in Germany from around 36,000 to less than 25,000. Shifting troops abroad has long been rumored and in line with the Pentagon’s efforts to place more troops in the Indo-Pacific.
But Trump has tempered his anger over the issue of NATO spending, calling Germany “naughty” for failing to fulfill NATO objectives and stating that Germany has long debased the US in trade and defense.
At the Rose Garden event last month with Widower, Trump said some troops from Germany would go to Poland. On Wednesday, officials suggested that Poland might get some additional rotation troops that would enter and exit Europe.
Under an agreement announced last year, the US said it would send about 1,000 more troops to Poland, and progress was being made to prepare for the steps.
In all, the US has around 47,000 troops and civilian personnel in Germany. Most of the 36,000 active duty are in several larger Army and Air Force bases including the Ramstein Air Base, a regional hub. There are also 2,600 National Guard and Reserve troops and nearly 12,000 civilians there.
Associated Press writers Zeke Miller in Washington, DC, David Rising in Berlin and Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed to this report.
Copyright 2020 Associated Press. All rights reserved.