In a slap at a longtime ally frequently reviled by President Trump, Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced Wednesday that the U.S. plans to withdraw roughly a third of the 36,000 American forces stationed in Germany.
Nearly 5,600 of the 11,800 troops to be removed from Germany would be sent to other NATO allies in Europe, including Poland. Another 6,400 would return to the U.S., although they or similar units would be redeployed to other European countries on what Esper described as a "rotational" basis.
"Our aim is to implement these moves as expeditiously as possible," Esper told reporters at the Pentagon. "We could see some moves begin within weeks; others will take longer."
The Pentagon chief cast the decision to cut U.S. forces in Germany as the result of a months-long review of American deployments in Europe aimed at bolstering defense.
"These changes will achieve the core principles of enhancing U.S. and NATO deterrence of Russia, strengthening NATO, reassuring allies and improving U.S. strategic flexibility," Esper said, even as he made clear that the repositioning of U.S. forces remains tentative. "I want to note that this plan is subject to and likely will change to some degree as it evolves over time."
Among the moves Esper said are being planned:
A former commander of the U.S. European Command blasted those moves in a series of tweets Wednesday.
"What is obvious to me — having served 12 years in Germany and having participated in the last force structure change from 2004-2011, this is not a 'strategic' move," retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling wrote on Twitter. "It is specifically a directed personal insult from Trump to our great & very supportive ally Germany."
Hanging over Wednesday's announcement is the presidential election in November and the time it would take to implement the changes.
Given the extended timeline for troop repositioning in Europe that Esper estimates would cost several billion dollars, it's not clear whether any of it will happen before Trump's first term as president ends in January.
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