WASHINGTON — The Pentagon delivered on President Trump’s threat to punish Germany, announcing Wednesday the removal of 11,900 troops from the NATO ally, as well as air wings and command headquarters.
The decision, which had bubbled for several weeks, has attracted significant bipartisan opposition and upset allies who see it as Trump’s way to weaken NATO.
“Champagne must be flowing freely this evening at the Kremlin,” Sen. Robert Menendez, D-NJ., said.
According to Defense Secretary Mark Esper, the changes will take years to complete and cost billions of dollars to implement, including the price tags for new military construction required in Europe and the U.S. to house the additional troops.
Esper told reporters that moving the headquarters west from Germany to Belgium would increase the deference factor against Russia as well as improve communications between the U.S. and commands.
He did not cite any communication issues between NATO and US commands that needed to be repaired.
Although Esper said the decision was part of his review of all combatant commands that he announced last summer, the scope of the planned changes aligns with the threat by Trump to pull troops from Germany, a vow he reiterated in June.
The president said then that Germany has failed to meet the NATO target of spending 2% of GDP on defense, spending only about 1.38%, incorrectly saying that it has refused to pay.
“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,” Trump said last month.
Esper said the moves come at “another one of those inflections points in NATO history” and would enhance deterrence of Russia, strengthen NATO, reassure allies, increase US strategic flexibility and make it easier on service families.
The overview is that the U.S. will “reposition” 11, 900 U.S. troops from Germany, with 5,600 going to other NATO countries and the rest return to the U.S, Esper said.
Some Germany headquarters closed, with some joining existing locations in Italy and Belgium. Some troops may move closer to Black Sea region, such as locations in Italy — but not, apparently, in newer NATO members in eastern Europe, with the exception of Poland. Italy which spends 1.22 percent of its GDP on defense and Belgium, 0.93 percent.
Gen. Tod Wolters, commander of U.S. European Command and NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe, said the change includes moving EUCOM headquarters from Stuttgart, Germany, to Mons, Belgium, as part of an effort to co-locate the command with the NATO military command headquarters that is based there.
He also said that U.S. Africa Command headquarters, also in Stuttgart, could also be moving to a location not yet 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 told Pentagon reporters.
He said an F-16 fighter squadron and two battalions would be moved from Germany to Italy.
Esper said Trump approved the plan in late June — but he insisted there was no political pressure to enact the president’s desire to punish Germany.
— by Tom Squitieri