Nearly 12,000 U.S. soldiers will be pulled out of Germany, the Department of Defense said Wednesday, reducing the U.S. deployment in the key NATO ally from 36,000 to 24,000. About 5,600 soldiers will be sent to other NATO countries and 6,400 will head to the United States, with the moves beginning as soon as in a few weeks, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Wednesday.
President Trump has repeatedly complained about NATO allies not meeting the group’s defense spending target of 2% of GDP, while threatening retaliation. “We spend a lot of money on Germany, they take advantage of us on trade and they take advantage on the military, so we're reducing the force,” Trump said Wednesday. “They're there to protect Europe, they're there to protect Germany, and Germany is supposed to pay for it. We don't want to be responsible anymore.”
Pentagon officials provided a different explanation for the move, CNN reported. Citing U.S. and alliance strategy, Esper said the reshuffling would “strengthen NATO, enhance the deterrence of Russia, and meet the other principles I set forth.”
The troop shuffle will cost billions of dollars, defense sources say, and require the construction of new facilities in both Europe and the U.S. Some of the moves could take years to execute, suggesting that the plan could be reversed if Trump loses reelection.
Cost aside, some critics say the plan is a strategic mistake. “The Administration's plan to remove thousands of U.S. troops from Germany is a grave error,” Republican Sen. Mitt Romney said Wednesday. “It is a slap in the face at a friend and ally when we should instead be drawing closer in our mutual commitment to deter Russian and Chinese aggression.”