Trump announced his intention last month to cut by about a third the 36,000-strong USA troop contingent in Germany, faulting the close United States ally for failing to meet NATO's defense spending target and accusing it of taking advantage of the U.S. on trade.
While Germany's national leadership has been largely silent on the troop cuts, local leaders representing the states where US troops are housed recently wrote to members of the US Congress asking them to help reverse the decision.
"Of the 11,900, almost 5,600 will be repositioned within North Atlantic Treaty Organisation countries, and approximately 6,400 will return to the USA, though many of these or similar units will begin conducting rotational deployments back to Europe", Esper added.
"Then when we get down to about 25,000, we'll see where we're going", Trump said last month.
Even as about 6,400 troops will return to the United States, Esper said these units or similar ones will conduct continuous rotational deployments in Europe in the Black Sea region to enhance deterrence and reassure allies along NATO's southeastern flank. "It's very simple. They're delinquent".
"Germany is paying a very small fraction of what they're supposed to be paying", Trump said of Germany's defense spending. The redistribution is expected to cost several million dollars. Much of it will require congressional approval to add or reallocate funds, something that may be hard since many lawmakers have expressed opposition to some of the moves.
It's also unclear whether the Trump administration's plan will survive if the president is not reelected in November.
There has been some resistance in the U.S. Congress against any troop withdrawals from Germany, even from some Republicans who say the move would be a gift to Russian Federation 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 US commitment to Europe's defense would encourage Russian aggression. And the U.S. is also moving its European headquarters from Germany to Belgium. Trump's announcement on the withdrawal in June blindsided the alliance. It was not immediately clear which units would move first.
"Wars are waged all over the world through the USA bases in Germany, including drone attacks that violate global law", said Tobias Pflueger, deputy party leader with the Left.
The U.S. plans to increase its presence in Poland. "We are still retaining a little more than 24,000 troops in Germany, which is still a lot, and more than any other country in Europe".
Germany is a hub for US operations in the Middle East and Africa.
The move was created to "strengthen NATO" and "deter Russia" and would retool the USA military for a "new era of great power competition", Esper said, detailing a Pentagon plan that will cost billions of dollars and take years to complete.
Sen. Jack Reed, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the decision a "self-inflicted wound by President Trump against American interests".
Most troops are now stationed at the Ramstein Air Base in southwestern Germany, the largest American military base outside the US. Shifting forces out of the country had always been rumored and is in line with Pentagon efforts to put more troops in the Indo-Pacific region.
Several NATO defense ministers had expressed concern about the decision to pull thousands of troops out of Germany, particularly since Trump has talked repeatedly about bringing troops home and getting the USA out of "endless wars".
At a Rose Garden event last month with Duda, Trump said some of the troops from Germany would go to Poland.
The current plan does not foresee a permanent troop re-assignment to Poland but, according to U.S. officials, could result in the "possibility to reassign more troops to Poland and the Baltics" on a rotational basis.
The Pentagon has been tight-lipped since then, however, on how it would carry out the presidents plans, which represent a remarkable rebuke to one of the closest USA trading partners and military allies. Under that agreement, the US will add a division headquarters, a combat training center, an unmanned aircraft squadron and structure to support a rotational Army brigade.
Esper had already been carrying out a review of USA forces globally when Trump's long-running dispute with Germany bubbled over. Most of the 35,000 on active duty are in a handful of larger Army and Air Force bases, including Ramstein Air Base, a hub in the region. There also are 2,600 National Guard and Reserve forces and nearly 12,000 civilians there. Because of the coronavirus threat, global travel has been significantly limited. Sign up to receive the day's most important political stories from Washington and beyond.