Defense Secretary Mark Esper speaks as President Donald Trump listens during a press briefing about the coronavirus in the Rose Garden of the White House, Friday, May 15, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The U.S. will withdraw 12,000 troops from Germany, shifting forces to other NATO countries in Europe, Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced on Wednesday. This will decrease the U.S. troop presence in Germany from roughly 36,000 to 24,000.

Esper told reporters that the repositioning of troops would give the U.S. greater flexibility to deploy troops elsewhere and would “enhance the deterrence of Russia,” but the announcement came soon after President Trump’s decision in June to reduce the American military presence in Germany for failing to pay its fair share of the common defense, 2% of GDP. In June, Mr. Trump complained that Germany was paying just 1%. 

“They’re delinquent billions of dollars, and this is for years,” the president said in June. “So we’re removing a number down to — we’re putting the number down to 25,000 soldiers.”

Esper acknowledged that Mr. Trump’s anger at Germany’s defense spending “accelerated” the troop redeployment process.

He told reporters that 5,600 troops would be repositioned to Belgium and Italy and 6,400 would return to the U.S., although many will then redeploy to Europe. A number of these new rotations would deploy troops to the Black Sea region. This move also comes as the U.S. plans to increase its troop presence in Poland, where Mr. Trump has a strong relationship with Polish President Andrzej Duda.

“These changes will achieve the core principles of enhancing the U.S. and NATO deterrence of Russia, strengthening NATO, reassuring allies, and improving U.S. strategic flexibility and EUCOM (U.S. European Command) operational flexibility,” Esper said. He added that no moves would take place without communication with military officials and discussions with Congress. General John Hyten, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reiterated that the U.S. will be in constant contact with allies as forces are repositioned.

The headquarters for the European Command and the European Special Operations Command, currently located in Stuttgart, Germany, will be relocated to NATO headquarters in Belgium. Esper said this would begin within weeks and cost several billion dollars.

Senator Jim Inhofe, the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said last week that he believes the repositioning of troops could take “years to execute.”

“It is clear to me that this concept will take months to plan, and years to execute,” Inhofe said in a statement last week after being briefed by Pentagon officials. “Rigorous planning and deliberate implementation of this concept is the best way to give our military families a measure of certainty and ensure they receive the care and support they deserve. It will also be critically important for the Department to continue to engage fully with our NATO allies on this concept.”

David Martin contributed to this report.

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