President Donald Trump has approved the withdrawal of 9,500 American troops from Germany after being briefed by top Pentagon officials on the move which critics fear will embolden Russia and discourage European allies.
“The Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff briefed the President yesterday on plans to redeploy 9,500 troops from Germany,” Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement on Tuesday.
The plan will “enhance Russian deterrence, strengthen NATO” and “reassure Allies” while improving US “flexibility”, Hoffman said.
There are some 35,000 US troops presently stationed in Germany, a legacy of World War II and more than in any other European country.
The withdrawal would reduce the number to about 25,000. The Pentagon did not detail which troops would be moved but said NATO allies and the US Congress would be advised “in the coming weeks”.
Trump’s announcement in mid-June that he would order troops home from Germany caught US European allies by surprise and has sparked a bipartisan backlash in Congress.
Bipartisan groups in the House and Senate, where legislators are in the midst of writing an annual defence authorisation bill, are proposing measures that would prevent the president from acting to withdraw troops unless certain safeguards are met.
Senator Mitt Romney, a Republican, has introduced a proposal that would prohibit Trump from reducing the number of active-duty troops in Germany below 34,500 until the Pentagon certifies that it would not undermine European alliances.
The House Armed Services Committee is expected to adopt a measure sponsored by Republican Liz Cheney and Democrat Jason Crow that would require the Trump administration to consult with Congress on force reductions.
For drawdowns above 8,000 troops, the House measure would require the administration to provide certifications “it wouldn’t jeopardise our national security interests and the interests of our allies,” Crow said in a conference call with reporters.
Crow said legislators would be adding the troop withdrawal provision to the annual defence bill in an Armed Services Committee meeting on Wednesday.
Some of the troops in Germany are likely to be redeployed to Poland under an understanding reached between Trump and Poland President Andrzej Duda in Washington on June 24.
At a joint news conference with Trump, Duda warned US troop withdrawals from Europe would be detrimental to NATO.
Relations between Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have frayed after Trump lobbied in recent months to invite Russia back to the Group of Seven industrialised countries.
Russia was expelled from the group – which includes the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan – after it annexed Crimea in 2014.
This year’s annual G7 summit was to be held in late June in Washington, DC, but was cancelled after Merkel said she would not attend.
In defending his troop withdrawal decision last month, Trump was critical of Germany and its contributions to NATO.
“Germany is delinquent. They’ve been delinquent for years, and they owe NATO billions of dollars, and they have to pay it. So, we’re protecting Germany, and they’re delinquent – that doesn’t make sense,” Trump told reporters at the White House on June 15.
Germany does not actually owe NATO money but, like many NATO members, it is not meeting the pledge all member countries take to spend 2 percent of annual economic output on defence.
Keeping US troops in Germany is “a tremendous cost to the United States”, Trump said.
Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley and Defense Secretary Mark Esper will face questions about the German troop withdrawal when they appear before the House Armed Services Committee on July 9, Crow said.