The US military on Wednesday unveiled plans to withdraw about 12,000 troops from Germany, but said that it would keep nearly half of those forces in Europe to address tensions with Russia.
US President Donald Trump announced his intention last month to cut by about one-third the 36,000-strong US troop contingent in Germany, faulting the close US ally for failing to meet NATO’s defense spending target and accusing it of taking advantage of the US on trade.
“We don’t want to be the suckers any more,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Wednesday about the decision. “We’re reducing the force because they’re not paying their bills; it’s very simple.”
US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said that the military’s plan would prevent the troop movements from undermining NATO and its efforts to deter Russian intervention, following Moscow’s 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula.
Some US troops would reposition to the Black Sea region and some could temporarily deploy in waves to the Baltics, Esper said.
Other forces leaving Germany would permanently move to Italy and the US military’s European headquarters would relocate from Stuttgart, Germany, to Belgium.
In total, just under 6,000 troops of the 12,000 leaving Germany are expected to remain in Europe. Many of the other forces would be based in the US, but would rotate into Europe for temporary deployments without their families.
“I’m telling you that this is going to accomplish what the president said with regard to getting us down to a lower number in Europe, and it meets his other objectives I outlined with regards to the strategic piece,” Esper said.
US officials said that only a relatively small number of advanced units would move any time soon. The rest of the troop movements would take years to fully implement, in part given the potentially billions of US dollars in additional costs.
Still, the moves out of Germany represent a remarkable rebuke to one of the closest US military allies and trading partners, while two beneficiaries, Italy and Belgium, are low-spending alliance members, according to NATO data.
Norbert Roettgen, chairman of the German parliament’s foreign affairs committee and an ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said that the troop withdrawal from Germany “will weaken the [NATO] alliance.”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement that allies had been briefed by the US.
Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda told reporters that his country was ready to accept more US soldiers.
“I value very favorably the news that the US mentioned possibility of moving some troops to the Baltic countries,” Nauseda said.
US Senator Mitt Romney said that the plan to remove troops from Germany was a “grave error.”
“It is a slap in the face at a friend and ally,” Romney said in a statement.
If he is elected president in November, former US vice president Joe Biden would review Trump’s decision to withdraw the troops from Germany, a top Biden aide told reporters earlier this month.
Since World War II, the US military has considered Germany to be one of its most strategic locations overseas and it serves as a critical logistics hub for troop movements not just within Europe, but to the Middle East, Africa and beyond.
However, following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 the number of US troops in Germany has been steadily reduced from about 200,000.
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