WASHINGTON (AP) — Spurred on by President Donald Trump’s decision to pull troops out of Germany, the U.S. will bring about 6,400 forces home and shift about 5,600 to other countries in Europe, U.S. defense leaders said Wednesday, detailing a Pentagon plan that will cost billions of dollars and take years to complete.
President Trump has said he wanted to withdraw troops from Germany, largely due to its failure to spend enough on defense.
A number of forces will go to Italy, and a major move would shift U.S. European Command and Special Operations Command Europe from Stuttgart, Germany, to Belgium.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that some moves will begin in months and will leave about 24,000 troops in Germany. He said that while the decision was “accelerated” by Trump’s orders, the moves also promote larger strategic goals to deter Russia, reassure European allies and shift forces further east into the Black Sea and Baltic regions.
“We’re reducing the force because they’re not paying their bills. It’s very simple. They’re delinquent,” Trump said Wednesday morning. He added that he might rethink the decision to pull troops out of Germany “if they start paying their bills.”
Trump has branded Germany “delinquent” for failing to meet a NATO goal set in 2014 for members to halt budget cuts and move toward spending at least 2% of gross national product on defense by 2024. And he asserted that the Germans had long shortchanged the United States on trade and defense, declaring that “until they pay” more for their own defense, he will reduce U.S. troops.
Esper said the moves will cost in the “single digit” billions of dollars.
The announcement is closely tied to the plan to increase the U.S. troop presence in Poland, a shift long desired by Warsaw and Polish President Andrzej Duda. Officials said the moves will require construction at bases in the U.S. to accommodate the additional forces. They said that in the future other troops would rotate in and out of Europe.
Some members of Trump’s own political party have said the troop movement is a threat to U.S. national security and puts Russia in a stronger position.
In June, 22 Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee sent a letter to Trump saying a reduced U.S. commitment to Europe’s defense would encourage Russian aggression and opportunism.
Sen. Jim Inhofe, the Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has voiced support for the plan while also acknowledging it will take “months to plan and years to execute.” He was briefed on the issue last week, and he issued a statement saying the “concept for realigning U.S. military posture in Europe” is sound.
Germany is a hub for U.S. operations in the Middle East and Africa. The decision to keep nearly half the forces in Europe is a move by the Pentagon to assuage allies by avoiding the complete withdrawal of 12,000 troops out of the region.
Several NATO defense ministers had expressed concern about the decision to pull thousands of troops out of Germany, particularly since Trump has talked repeatedly about bringing troops home and getting the U.S. out of “endless wars.”
Under an agreement announced last year, the U.S. already said it was sending about 1,000 more troops to Poland, and progress is being made, officials said, to lay the groundwork for those moves. Based on that agreement, the U.S. will add a division headquarters, a combat training center, an unmanned aircraft squadron and structure to support an Army brigade that could rotate in and out of the country.
Overall, the U.S. has about 47,000 troops and civilian personnel in Germany, spread out across a number of bases, headquarters and smaller installations. Most of the 36,000 on active duty are in a handful of larger Army and Air Force bases including Ramstein Air Base, a hub in the region. There also are 2,600 National Guard and Reserve forces in Germany and almost 12,000 civilians working for the services or the Defense Department.
Associated Press writer Jill Colvin contributed to this report.