“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,” Mr. Esper said.
Repositioning the troops will cost “several billion dollars,” he added. The withdrawal and shifting of forces is likely to take months, if not years.
Several hours later, Mr. Trump undermined his defense secretary’s already shaky position.
“Germany pays Russia billions of dollars a year for Energy, and we are supposed to protect Germany from Russia,” he wrote on Twitter. “What’s that all about? Also, Germany is very delinquent in their 2% fee to NATO. We are therefore moving some troops out of Germany!”
About 5,600 troops leaving Germany will move elsewhere in Europe, including an F-16 fighter squadron to Italy and an armored unit that will return to the United States and start a rotational deployment in the Black Sea region. The military’s European Command headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, will move to Mons, Belgium. The Africa Command headquarters, also in Germany, will probably move, although Defense Department officials did not name a location.
The shift of forces will reduce the American presence at some U.S. bases in Germany, but none are expected to close. The more remote town of Spangdahlem, where the F-16 jet squadron is based, depends on the American presence there and will experience economic fallout from the withdrawal.
“It is a bitter day,” the German politician Roger Lewentz told the public broadcaster SWR in Rhineland-Palatinate, the southwestern state where the Spangdahlem Air Base is home to about 4,000 U.S. Air Force personnel, many of whom are stationed there with their families. About 670 Germans are employed at the base, in one of the country’s economically weakest regions.
“Unfortunately, this decision by the U.S. administration will mean the loss of German jobs,” Mr. Lewentz said. “The German employees didn’t deserve this.”