U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper announced Wednesday the U.S. is set to withdraw around 6,400 troops from Germany and shift move nearly 5,600 troops from Germany to other countries in Europe.
Esper’s announcement comes amid calls from President Donald Trump to reduce the number of troops in Germany. The reduction of approximately 11,900 troops from Germany will reduce the number of U.S. troops in the country from around 36,000 to 24,000.
“The current EUCOM plan will reposition approximately 11,900 military personnel from Germany – from roughly 36,000 down to 24,000 – in a manner that will strengthen NATO, enhance the deterrence of Russia, and meet the other principles I set forth,” Esper said of the plan. “Of the 11,900, nearly 5,600 Service members will be repositioned within NATO countries, and approximately 6,400 will return to the United States, though many of these or similar units will begin conducting rotational deployments back to Europe.”
While various U.S. units return home, Esper said units similar to the ones leaving Europe will begin making rotational deployments around the continent going forward. Esper said the plan is to consolidate U.S. headquarters in countries in Europe outside Germany, such as NATO bases in Belgium and Italy. He said, “This will strengthen NATO and improve the operational efficiency and readiness of over 2,000 Service members.”
Esper said around 4,500 of the U.S. troops returning home would be members of 2nd Cavalry Regiment, while similar Stryker units will head further east and around the Black Sea, reinforcing NATO’s presence in a key area between Russia and continental Europe. A fighter squadron and elements of a fighter wing will also shift from Germany to Italy, positioning those fighters closer to the Black Sea Region.
Another 2,500 airmen based in Mildenhall, U.K., who were scheduled to re-base to Germany, will remain in the U.K.
Esper also confirmed some troops will be sent to Poland, in line with a troop movement suggested by Trump last month during a press conference with Polish President Andrzej Duda.
The decision to move troops from Germany comes as Trump has pressured the NATO ally to contribute more to the alliance. In his remarks last month, Trump said Germany is “paying a very small fraction of what they are supposed to be paying” and that they have had a “tremendous delinquency.”
Despite the approximate net 6,400 troops leaving Europe altogether, Esper emphasized U.S. forces in Europe are making the troop shifts in a way that meets five strategic goals he set out: enhancing deterrence of Russia, strengthening NATO, keeping allies reassured of a U.S. presence in Europe, improving U.S. strategic flexibility and European Command (EUCOM) operational flexibility, caring for service members and their families in the process.