US to send 600 troops to Germany for ‘war games’

The United States will send 600 soldiers to take part in a training exercise in Germany in the coming weeks, even as Washington considers reducing the number of troops stationed in the country, AFP has learned.

US to send 600 troops to Germany for 'war games'
Archive photo shows US President Donald Trump visiting Ramstein Air Base in December 2018. Photo: DPA

The US defence ministry has informed representatives of the German parliament's defence committee of the plans to push ahead with the scheduled war games, sources within the committee told AFP.

“The soldiers from the US will carry out from July 10th the exercise at the Bergen/Münster military training area together with 400 US military personnel already stationed in Germany,” said one of the sources.

The exercise is part of the Defender Europe 20 manoeuvre, suspended in March due to the coronavirus pandemic but relaunched under the new name Defender Europe 20 Plus.

The German government on Wednesday confirmed that the Trump administration has informed Berlin it is considering cutting the number of US troops in Germany, a move critics say could undermine the NATO alliance.

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that President Donald Trump wants to withdraw some 9,500 troops from the 34,500 currently permanently based in Germany.

READ ALSO: NATO chief defends US amid Germany troop withdrawal report

No further details were given and there has been no confirmation from US officials about the plan.

Strained ties

Alexander Neu, an MP from the far-left Die Linke party, criticised the restart of the military exercise.

“This is absolutely unacceptable not only in view of the global coronavirus pandemic in which we still find ourselves, but also for peace policy reasons,” he said.

Germany hosts more US troops than any other country in Europe, a legacy of the Allied occupation after World War II.

But trans-Atlantic ties have become strained under Trump, and the US leader has repeatedly lashed out at Germany for not spending more on defence in line with NATO targets.

Originally planned to be the largest joint US-Europe war games in 25 years, the Defender Europe 20 drills were supposed to involve about 37,000 soldiers from 18 NATO countries, including 20,000 from the US.

The manoeuvres were to begin in May in Germany, Poland and the Baltic States.

The operation partly resumed last week in Poland, where 4,000 US troops will participate in exercises until June 19 at the northern Drawsko Pomorskie military training range.

READ ALSO: Trump plan to slash US troops sparks concern in Germany

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Germany welcomes US troop withdrawal freeze under Biden

The German government on Friday welcomed a decision by President Joe Biden to put on hold plans to reduce US troops in Germany, saying their presence was in the countries' mutual interest.

Germany welcomes US troop withdrawal freeze under Biden
An American soldier stationed in Germany, in front of Dresden's Military History Museum in 2016. Photo: DPA

“We have always been convinced that American troops being stationed here in Germany serves European and transatlantic security and hence is in our mutual interest,” German government spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters.

As part of a major foreign and security policy overhaul presented Thursday, Biden announced a freeze on plans set in motion by his predecessor Donald Trump to reduce the US troop presence in Germany, a cornerstone of NATO security since the start of the Cold War.

READ ALSO: What could Joe Biden as US president mean for Germany?

Trump's decision was seen as linked to his tense relationship with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and his frequent complaints that Europe's top economy spent too little on defence.

The United States has had US troops stationed in Germany since World War II but their numbers have declined since the fall of the Berlin Wall from some 200,000 soldiers in 1990 to 34,500 today.

Although the prospect had been looming for years, Trump's decision in July to redeploy 12,000 soldiers from Germany still came as a shock, particularly to towns that have built strong economic and cultural ties to the US military.

READ ALSO: Trump to withdraw 'thousands of US soldiers from Germany' under Biden

“We strongly value the close, decades-long cooperation with the American troops stationed in Germany,” Seibert said.

He said the communities hosting GIs appreciated their presence, calling the bases “part of the lived transatlantic friendship”.  

Seibert said German officials were in “consultations” with the US administration about “further planning” but that the decision how to shape the future American military footprint in Europe was a “US domestic issue”.