US to move 11,900 troops out of Germany

The United States will slash its military presence in Germany by 11,900 troops, relocating some to Italy and Belgium in a major shift of Washington's NATO assets, Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced Wednesday.

US to move 11,900 troops out of Germany
US troops in the Patch Barracks in Stuttgart in 2016. Photo: DPA

In a repositioning that could start within weeks, the Pentagon will be sending home about 6,400 of its military personnel in Germany, and move nearly 5,600 to other NATO countries.

That will take the total US presence in Germany to about 24,000, Esper said.

A key aim of the rotation is to reinforce NATO's southeastern flank near the Black Sea, he said.

Another, which involves moving US command structures to Belgium, is to improve coordination with the NATO command.

Some could also go to Poland and the Baltic states if those countries reach final agreements with Washington on the idea, Esper said.

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

“These changes will unquestionably achieve the core principles of enhancing US and NATO deterrence of Russia; strengthening NATO; reassuring allies; and, improving US strategic flexibility,” Esper said.

The move could have a significant economic and strategic impact in Germany, where tens of thousands of US troops have been stationed since the end of World War II.

Earlier this month the leaders of four German states urged the US Congress to block the troop reduction, warning it could weaken the Atlantic alliance's deterrence against Moscow.

Esper said the move was long-discussed and was not the result of President Donald Trump's unhappiness with the relationship between Washington and Berlin.

He said the relocation of troops and a fighter jet squadron to Italy, and more rotations of armored Stryker units into the Black Sea region, was focused on the potential threat to southeastern Europe from Russia, whose military ambitions were underscored by the 2014 annexation of the Crimea.

The goal is “to enhance deterrence and reassure allies along NATO's southeastern flank,” Esper said.

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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”.