No Order Yet to Pull Troops from Germany Despite Trump Statement, General Says

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Airmen participate in an Agile Combat Employment exercise at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany.
U.S. Air Force Airmen participate in an Agile Combat Employment exercise at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, May 28, 2020. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech Sgt. Joshua R. M. Dewberry)

The head of U.S. Air Forces in Europe says he has not received direction to begin drawing down airmen from bases in Germany despite the Trump administration's stated intention to bring service members home by September.

"At this point, I have not received any specific guidance directing me to do any specific planning on that," Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, who's also the commander for the Air Force in Africa, told reporters Thursday during a Defense Writers Group. He referred all questions on the matter to the White House.

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The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that President Donald Trump had given an order to reduce active-duty personnel in Germany to 25,000 by this fall, a sharp decrease of roughly 10,000 troops.

Trump confirmed the withdrawal plans Monday, stating the reductions are in response to Germany's delinquent defense spending contributions toward NATO.

"Germany, as you know, is very delinquent in their payments to NATO," he said at the White House during a roundtable discussion. "They are delinquent of billions of dollars -- this is for years delinquent. So we are putting the number down to 25,000 soldiers."

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), NATO members in 2014 agreed to increase defense spending to at least 2% of their GDP over the next decade.

In 2019, Germany's spending rose to 1.3% from just over 1.2% in 2018, according to Reuters. But last year, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that, despite the country's commitment to the 2% goal, it had set a new target of 1.5% due to economic shortfalls.

The news of a potential military cutback has drawn opposition from U.S. and German lawmakers alike, given the threat posed by a resurgent Russia.

"The threats posed by Russia have not lessened, and we believe that signs of a weakened U.S. commitment to NATO will encourage further Russian aggression and opportunism," Rep. Mac Thornberry, a Republican from Texas, said in a joint House Armed Services Committee letter addressed to Trump last week.

"The troop limit would also significantly reduce the number of U.S. forces that can flow through

Germany for deployment to bases around the world, causing serious logistical challenges," Thornberry added. Twenty-two other Republicans were signatories to the letter.

"The United States' military presence in Germany is mutually beneficial to both nations, and bolsters the trans-Atlantic alliance. It's also an invaluable hub for U.S. military operations," added Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-New Hampshire, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees. "Congress should not stand idly by while President Trump inflicts lasting damage to our trans-Atlantic relations and harms our national security objectives."

The Defense Department's footprint across Europe has been shrinking for years. But programs like the European Deterrence Initiative -- prompted in 2014 as a result of Russia's annexation of Crimea -- have helped the services fuel ambitious outreach efforts to partners in Europe.

Gen. Tod Wolters, head of U.S. European Command, earlier this year characterized the EDI -- formerly known as the European Reassurance Initiative -- as a "success," especially in increasing readiness among the forces rotating to and from the continent, to include pushing the Air Force's experimental Agile Combat Employment initiative. ACE aims to build small hubs to house quick-reaction forces across the continent.

"The goals of this particular concept ... [are] to be proactive in terms of distributing our forces in a manner that allows us to remain ready, but also able to generate combat power" that's unpredictable, Harrigian said Thursday, echoing comments he made in May. "Because at the end of the day, that's what we need to be able to do as we deliver this concept."

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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