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The Pentagon is proceeding with President Donald Trump's plan to move 12,000 U.S. troops out of Germany – about 6,400 forces will be brought home and 5,400 shifted to other countries in Europe, U.S. defense officials said Wednesday.
The move will cost billions of dollars and take years to complete. It has attracted bipartisan congressional opposition, raised concerns among NATO allies and appears to be fueled at least in part by Trump’s displeasure at Germany's failure to spend more on defense. The Pentagon said the action was part of its plan to strategically "reposition" U.S. forces in Europe to better counter threats from Russia and China.
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"We began this process actually several months ago when I gave (U.S. European Command) direction to begin looking at ways to improve our force disposition in NATO," U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Wednesday.
"I'm telling you that this is going to accomplish what the president said with regard to getting us down to a lower number in Europe and it meets those other objectives I laid out with regard to the strategic piece," he added, though he did not explain how the Pentagon's stated objective fits with Trump's repeated public desire to punish Germany.
"They take advantage of us on trade, and they take advantage of us on the military," Trump said of Germany on Wednesday, speaking to White House reporters.
"So we're reducing the force because they’re not paying their bills. It's very simple. They’re delinquent," Trump added, before heading to Texas for a campaign event.
Some moves will begin in months, with air and ground forces sent to countries that already have an American troop presence. The plan leaves about 25,000 troops in Germany. It's unclear if the plan would survive if Trump is not reelected.
Rachel Rizzo, a security expert at the Truman National Security Project, a think tank that specializes in European affairs and NATO, said that "although it's wise to continuously revisit the number of forward deployed U.S. troops, this move is clearly nothing more than a punitive move toward Germany that it's hard if not impossible to see any benefit."
Members of Trump’s own political party have criticized the troop move as a gift to Russia and a threat to U.S. national security. Twenty-two Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee sent a letter to Trump saying a reduced U.S. commitment to Europe’s defense would encourage Russian aggression and opportunism.
"The plan outlined by the administration today to remove thousands of U.S. troops from Germany is a grave error. It is a slap in the face at a friend and ally when we should instead be drawing closer in our mutual commitment to deter Russian and Chinese aggression," said Republican Senator Mitt Romney. "And it is a gift to Russia coming at a time when we just have learned of its support for the Taliban and reports of bounties on killing American troops. The move may temporarily play well in domestic politics, but its consequences will be lasting and harmful to American interests."
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Sen. Jim Inhofe, the Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has voiced support for the plan, while also acknowledging it will take "months to plan, and years to execute." He was briefed on the issue last week, and issued a statement saying the "concept for realigning U.S. military posture in Europe" is sound.
Trump announced last month that he wanted to cut the number of active duty U.S. troops in Germany from roughly 36,000 to a bit more than 25,000. Shifting forces out of the country had long been rumored and is in line with Pentagon efforts to put more troops in the Indo-Pacific. But Trump’s comments indicated the move was tied more directly to his anger over Germany’s failure to meet NATO defense spending goals.
Germany has not met a NATO goal set in 2014 for members to halt budget cuts and move toward spending at least 2% of gross national product on defense by 2024.
Under an agreement announced last year, the U.S. already said it would send about 1,000 more troops to Poland, which borders a Russian military enclave that is not connected to the rest of Russia. Based on that agreement, the U.S. will add a division headquarters, a combat training center, and an unmanned aircraft squadron and structure to support an Army brigade that could rotate in and out of the country.
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Overall, the U.S. has about 47,000 troops and civilian personnel in Germany, spread out across a number of bases, headquarters and smaller installations. Most of the 35,000 active-duty are in a handful of larger Army and Air Force bases including Ramstein Air Base. There also are 2,600 National Guard and Reserve forces in Germany, and almost 12,000 civilians working for the services or the U.S. Defense Department.
Contributing: Christal Hayes; Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: US troops to leave Germany following Trump demands, a costly move