In a move that sparked bipartisan criticism, the Trump administration announced Wednesday that the U.S. will pull nearly 12,000 troops from Germany, a decision President Trump said is a response to Germany’s reluctance to spend a greater share of its gross domestic product on defense.
About a third, 11,800 Army and Air Force units, of the 36,000 American troops stationed in Germany will be withdrawn from the long-time NATO ally, an expensive process that will take years, U.S. defense officials said. Some will be re-stationed in other European NATO countries, while others will return to the U.S. although they may later be deployed in Europe again.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper said at the Pentagon Wednesday that the 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.”
“Our aim is to implement these moves as expeditiously as possible,” Esper said, adding that the plan “likely will change to some degree as it evolves over time.”
“We could see some moves begin within weeks. Others will take longer,” the Pentagon chief said.
Trump accused Germany of taking advantage of the U.S. on Wednesday, saying the U.S. is withdrawing the troops because Germany fails to spend 2 percent of its GDP on defense, the goal set by NATO.
“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,” the president said.
“They’re there to protect Europe, they’re there to protect Germany, and Germany is supposed to pay for it,” Trump said. “We don’t want to be responsible anymore.”
The decision attracted criticism from both sides of the aisle in Congress, including from Representative Mac Thornberry of Texas, the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, who called the decision “troubling.”
In a June letter, Thornberry along with other Republicans on the committee warned Trump about potential Russian aggression in the wake of proposed troop withdrawals.
“In Europe, the threats posed by Russia have not lessened, and we believe that signs of a weakened U.S. commitment to NATO will encourage further Russian aggression and opportunism,” the Republican lawmakers wrote.