Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced at a Pentagon briefing Wednesday that approximately 11,900 United States troops will leave Germany, reducing the U.S. troop presence from approximately 36,000 to 24,000.
Of the 11,900 forces leaving Germany, about 5,600 would be deployed further east to other NATO member countries, and 6,400 will return home. Of the units returning home, many will deploy to Germany on a rotational basis.
Esper said the decision was part of an ongoing review of U.S. forces across the globe, to make sure that U.S. troops are positioned in accordance with the Trump administration’s National Defense Strategy that is focused on China and the Indo-Pacific region, as well as Russia.
Asked whether the reduction was due to Trump’s frustration with Germany not spending two percent of their overall budget on their own defense as required under NATO membership, Esper said the review of the U.S.’s military posture in Europe and other places have been long underway but the decision was accelerated by Trump’s order in June to reduce troops in Germany.
“To President Trump’s credit, under his leadership, we’ve seen an increase in defense spending by NATO. I think it’s over $130 billion over a few years. We have seen a few more countries join — I’ll call it — the 2 percent club,” he said.
“Germany is the wealthiest country in Europe. Germany can and should pay more to its defense. It should certainly meet the two percent standard and, I would argue, go above and beyond that,” he said.
“I’ve said that very publicly, I’ve said that very privately to my counterparts as well, about the importance of NATO, any alliance, sharing the burden so that we can all deter Russia and avoid [conflict] in Europe,” he said.
“And, again, the president’s directive in June accelerated that, and I think we are excited about where we’re going and what it will mean in terms of our ability to enhance deterrence, strengthen the alliance in the process,” he said.
Esper said the U.S. will still be maintaining more troops in Germany than in any other country in Europe, and that the decision would allow U.S. forces to go further east into the Black Sea region, Poland, and the Baltics. “We’re moving forces out of central Europe [and] following, in many ways, the boundary east, where our newest allies are,” he said.
To achieve the troop reduction, the U.S. military will move the U.S. European Command (EUCOM) headquarters and its components based in Stuttgart, Germany, to Belgium and Italy with their NATO counterparts.
Those returning back to the U.S., including nearly 4,500 members of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, and some other Stryker units, will begin rotational deployments farther east into the Black Sea region, to enhance the U.S. military presence along NATO’s southeastern flank.
In addition, 2,500 airmen based in Mildenhall, United Kingdom, who had been scheduled to move to Germany, will remain in the U.K., and a fighter squadron and elements of a fighter wing will be repositioned from Germany to Italy, moving them closer to the Black Sea region and better able to deploy to NATO’s southeastern flank.
The U.S. military also plans on rotating the lead element of the Army’s newly established V Corps headquarters to Poland, once Warsaw signs a defense cooperation agreement and burden-sharing deal, as previously pledged.
The troop reduction is expected to begin within weeks.
“These 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 and EUCOM operational flexibility,” Esper said.
Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force Gen. John Hyten, who spoke alongside Esper, called the re-balance of troops “essential.”
“This re-balance consistent with the NDS will align NATO and EUCOM capabilities, better distribute forces across Europe, and increase the use of rotational forces, thus bolstering our commitment to Europe. It enhances deterrence and improves operational flexibility,” he said.
This strategic posture realignment in Europe, and other actions [U.S. Indo-Pacific Command] is taking as well, should send a clear, unmistakable message to our competitors: the joint force is committed to acting as opportunities arise to counter malign activities, and we remain positioned to deter military aggression against the U.S. and its — and our allies. While we hope that Russia and China will engage in more productive and cooperative behavior in the future, we are posturing our forces to deter aggression and counter their malign influence.
EUCOM commander Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters, who also spoke at the briefing, said EUCOM’s headquarters and its components would be moved from Germany to co-locate with Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), NATO’s military headquarters in Belgium.
“This will improve the speed and clarity of our decision-making and promote greater operational alignment,” Wolters said.
Wolters said there is also potential to relocate U.S. Africa Command’s headquarters and its component U.S. Special Operations Command Africa, which are in Germany, to a “location to be determined.”
Wolters said, specifically, the U.S. intends to relocate three brigade-sized headquarters, an air defense artillery battalion and an engineering battalion from Germany to Belgium, and two smaller support and contracting organizations to Italy, and an F-16 fighter squadron, its aircraft, its pilots and its jet mechanics from Germany to Italy.
He said the U.S. will also reposition two battalions from Germany to Italy, to reunite with their parent brigade headquarters.
He said the return of forces back home, including the 2nd Cav Regiment, would allow those units to “regain maximum U.S. at-home-station readiness and more effectively support global contingencies, while still maintaining a keen focus on Europe.”
“We’ll now be able to rotate units in perpetuity in multiple locations, to include potentially Poland, to include the northeast in the vicinity of the Baltics, to include the southeast in the vicinity of the Black Sea. And, on occasion, back into Germany,” Wolters said.
“And the flexibility that this affords us certainly complicates a potential enemy against us and it dramatically improves our operational capability to more effectively deter and defend,” he added.
Officials said it has yet to be determined where the troops returning to the U.S. will be based, and that the repositioning of troops is estimated to cost several billion over several years.