Withdrawing troops from Germany is a 'grave error,' lawmakers say

Elizabeth Howe
July 30, 2020 - 1:05 pm
Troops in Germany

DoD

Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle have pushed against the Department of Defense's withdrawal of troops from Europe at the request of President Donald Trump. 

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, called the decision a "grave error" while House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., said he was "very concerned" about the "arbitrary cap" on U.S. troops in Germany. 

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper announced Wednesday during a press briefing at the Pentagon that approximately 11,900 military personnel from Germany will be "repositioned." Moves will begin within the next few weeks and cost an estimated several billion dollars over the coming years.

The move fulfills Trump's repeated wishes to remove troops from the country as a sort of punitive measure. Esper denied these motivations during his Pentagon briefing, claiming the DoD's decision was based on a strategic review.

"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 outlined with regard to the strategic piece, the principles, assuring the allies, and taking care of our service members and families," Esper said. 

But Trump reiterated at the White House shortly after that the withdrawal -- at least for him -- is about Germany not paying its bills. 

"We're reducing the force because they're not paying their bills. It's very simple. They're delinquent," Trump said leaving the White House Wednesday. 

Esper characterized the strategic decisions behind the move as a "deterrence" to Russia. 

"The current EUCOM plan will reposition approximately 11,900 military personnel from Germany, from roughly 36,000 down to 24,000, in a manner that will strengthen NATO, enhance the deterrence of Russia, and meet the other principles I set forth," Esper said during the briefing.

When asked how removing forces from Russia would increase deterrence, Esper and Gen. Tod Wolters, commander of U.S. European Command, cited "operational flexibility" but did not provide further details. 

Members of Congress did not agree. 

Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said that “champagne must be flowing freely this evening at the Kremlin."

"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," Esper said to close the briefing.

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Reach Elizabeth Howe on Twitter @ECBHowe.

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