Defense Secretary Mark Esper has announced that the US will redeploy 11,900 US soldiers from Germany. The move, which Resurgent reported was initially announced last month, will cut American forces in Germany by about a third.
CNN reports that Esper made the formal announcement about the redeployments in a Pentagon briefing on Wednesday. The reduction will meet a Trump-mandated cap of 25,000 US troops in the country and is slightly larger than the original estimate of 9,500 troops.
“The current EUCOM plan will reposition approximately 11,900 military personnel from Germany, from roughly 36,000 down to 24,000, in a manner that will strengthen NATO, enhance the deterrence of Russia, and meet the other principles I set forth,” Esper told reporters.
Of the 11,900 troops being redeployed, a US official said that 5,400 would be “staying in Europe.” The remainder, 6,400 soldiers and their families, will be sent back to the US but will ultimately be redeployed again to new bases in Europe. The movements will take years and cost billions of dollars in new construction of military bases outside Germany.
The troops being relocated include both US Army and Air Force units. Gen. Tod Wolters, the commander of US European Command and NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe, said that the US European Command headquarters would be relocated nearer to NATO headquarters in Belgium. The US Africa Command headquarters, currently located in Stuttgart, is also being moved, but AFRICOM’s new location has not been determined.
“We also intend to reposition three brigade-size headquarters, an air defense artillery battalion, and an engineering battalion to Belgium from Germany, and two smaller support and contracting organizations to Italy,” Wolters said. A USAF F-16 fighter squadron and two army battalions are also slated to move from Germany to Italy.
President Trump has previously indicated that he ordered the redeployments because he believes that Germany spends too little on defense. In June, Trump said, “One of the only countries that hasn’t agreed to pay what they’re supposed to pay (on NATO) is Germany. So, I said until they pay, we’re removing our soldiers, a number of our soldiers, by about half. Then when we get down to about 25,000, we’ll see where we’re going.”
However, CNN notes that Belgium and Italy spend a smaller share of GDP on defense than Germany. Germany spends about 1.38 percent of its GDP on defense while Belgium’s military spending is at 0.93 percent and Italy is at 1.22 percent.
More importantly, even a cursory glance at the European map shows that the redeployments would put American soldiers at a disadvantage in their primary mission of defending Europe against a Russian invasion. Forces stationed in Italy would have to move hundreds of miles north toward the presumed invasion corridor across the Baltic states, Poland, and Germany while Belgium-based forces would have to travel east to meet the aggressors. American forces based across the Atlantic at home might arrive too late to be of any help at all.
After the Cold War, the possibility of a Russian invasion of Europe was considered to have diminished. That changed in 2014 when Vladimir Putin’s forces invaded portions of Ukraine. The conflict there continues to this day and Ukrainian leaders fret that Russia may attempt to take the rest of their country.
For at least a decade, Putin’s goal to reconstitute the Russian empire of the czars has been known in the West. Many parts of the old empire are in central and eastern Europe. Several countries that are historical targets of Russia are now part of NATO. These include Poland, Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania. Ukraine, while not a member of NATO, has a mutual defense treaty with the US.
When the Trump Adminstration announced the troop withdrawals last month, the move drew widespread opposition from both parties. Twenty-two Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee signed a letter to Trump that asked him to reconsider the drawdown.
“We strongly believe that NATO allies, such as Germany, should do more to contribute to our joint defense efforts. At the same time, we also know that the forward stationing of American troops since the end of World War II has helped to prevent another world war and, most importantly, has helped make America safer,” the letter said.
The Republican letter noted that the Russian threat has not diminished and stated their concern that projecting weakness would encourage further Russian aggression. The congressmen also noted that Germany is a transhipment point for US troops and supplies moving all around the world and that the drawdown would cause logistical problems.
Defense officials noted that the timeline of the drawdown will take “months to plan and years to execute” as well as cost billions of dollars. The redeployment will not be completed before the November election and could become a political issue.
Given Russian aggression both in Europe, cyber attacks in the US, and reported bounties offered to the Taliban for killing American soldiers, it is likely that, if Joe Biden ever emerges from self-isolation to mount a campaign, Trump’s Russia policy will be a point of criticism. To date, the president has not criticized or raised the issue of the bounties with Vladimir Putin. President Trump’s determination to withdraw soldiers from Germany gives Biden an opportunity to assume the mantle of national security hawk over a president whose inclination is to have America retreat from the world stage.
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