The U.S. military plans to move its European headquarters from Germany to Belgium, bring thousands of troops back to America and reposition other forces across the continent in one of the largest military reconfigurations in Europe since the end of the Cold War.
Pentagon officials laid out the changes at a press conference Wednesday morning, detailing the plan to follow through on President Trump’s decision to draw down America’s troop presence in Germany. Some of the forces leaving Germany will be sent to other NATO nations, officials said, while others will return to the U.S.
Some forces that had been scheduled to move to Germany in the near future — such as 2,500 American airmen currently in the United Kingdom — will instead stay where they are.
Perhaps the biggest change would see the U.S. move its European Command headquarters from Stuttgart, Germany, to Mons, Belgium, where it would co-locate with Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe and other U.S. and NATO elements.
The major changes come amid Mr. Trump’s open feud with Germany over the country’s defense spending, financial contributions to NATO, and other disagreements. But Pentagon leaders denied that the president’s disputes with Berlin have had any bearing on the changes announced Wednesday, stressing that they’re part of a long-planned effort to reposition American forces across Europe to better deter Russia.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper said NATO has reached an “inflection point” in which the U.S. and its allies must make changes to force structures to defend against an increasingly aggressive and unpredictable Moscow.
“As we’ve entered a new era of great power competition, we are now at another one of those inflection points in NATO’s evolution, and I am confident the alliance will be all the better and stronger for it,” he said.
Military leaders stressed that even though the total number of U.S. forces may be less once the changes are implemented, they argue NATO still will be in a stronger position.
“Every day our allies and partners join us in defending freedom, deterring war and maintaining the rules which underwrite a free and open international order,” said Air Force Gen. John E. Hyten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “While we hope 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.”
But Mr. Trump appeared to muddy the military’s message, telling reporters Wednesday he approved the moves because of Germany’s low defense spending — and could reverse them if Berlin boosted military spending.
“We’re reducing the force because they’re not paying their bills,” Mr. Trump told reporters at the White House. “It’s very simple. They’re delinquent.”
In addition to moving U.S. European Command headquarters to Belgium, some of the other specific changes include cutting the total number of troops in Germany from 36,000 to about 24,000. Of those, about 5,600 service members will be repositioned to other NATO countries, while 6,400 will return home to the U.S., officials said.
The nearly 4,500 members of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, Mr. Esper said, will return to the U.S.
About 2,500 American airmen based in Mildenhall will stay in the U.K. instead of completing a planned move to Germany. An F-16 squadron and other units will be repositioned to Italy, officials said. The Pentagon will also dispatch rotational forces to the Black Sea region to protect NATO’s southeastern flank.
Despite all of the detail, officials stressed that plans could change along the way. Gen. Hyten referred to the European repositioning proposal as “a concept.”
“We now have to turn it into plans,” he said.
Mr. Esper did not offer a firm figure on how much the reconfiguration will cost but said it will likely be several billion dollars “spread out over time.”
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