The U.S. military is withdrawing nearly 12,000 troops from Germany, top military officials announced on Wednesday.
Roughly 5,600 U.S. troops will be moved from Germany to other NATO countries, while about 6,400 will return to the United States, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said at a Pentagon news briefing. That would leave about 24,000 U.S. service members in Germany.
The withdrawal includes moving an Air Force F-16 squadron to Italy and the Army’s 2nd Cavalry Regiment to the United States,
Additionally, roughly 2,500 airmen at Royal Air Force Mildenhall in Britain will not be sent to Germany, as initially expected, Esper told reporters.
As the roughly 4,500 soldiers with the 2nd Cavalry Regiment return to the United States, other Stryker units will begin making rotational deployments to the Black Sea region, Esper said. Other stateside units will also rotate through Europe.
“The deployment of rotational forces from the United States, we have observed – whether it’s the ABCTs [armored brigade combat teams] going from the United States to Korea or the ABCT to Poland, or the bomber task force – we are finding that they are deploying at a much higher level of readiness; and while they are deployed, they are able to sustain a much more fixed focus on their mission and their capabilities,” Esper said.
Esper also argued that rotational forces will have “a more enduring presence” in Europe than units that are currently permanently stationed in Germany.
“We will deploy from the United States and be able to keep units – in this case, a Stryker brigade, if you will, or elements of it – in the Black Sea Region in a more enduring way, more focused on the mission, and not constrained, if you will, with knowing that the families are back in Germany,” Esper said.
The headquarters for both U.S. European Command and U.S. Special Operations Command are also expected to move from Stuttgart, Germany, to Belgium, said Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters, head of EUCOM, who added the headquarters for U.S. Africa Command and U.S. Special Operations Command Africa could also leave Stuttgart.
Defense officials did not say how long these moves are expected to take, but Esper told reporters that “we could see some moves begin within weeks. Others will take longer.”
Esper and other military leaders argued that the moves are meant to be strategic and help deter Russia, but President Donald Trump has repeatedly said he wants to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Germany because he believes the German government is not paying enough money to NATO.
“They take advantage of us on trade and they take advantage of the military so we're reducing the troops,” Trump told reporters on Wednesday during the Pentagon news briefing about the withdrawal from Germany.
When asked about Trump’s most recent remarks, Esper credited the president for getting certain NATO members to spend more on defense.
“Let’s be clear: I think that Germany is the wealthiest country in Europe,” Esper said. “Germany can and should pay more for its defense. It should certainly meet the 2 percent [of Gross Domestic Product] standard – and – I would argue – go above and beyond that. “