Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has voiced his commitment to shoring up close ties with NATO ally Germany that were strained under the Trump administration, and suggested that the plan to withdraw 12,000 U.S. troops from the country is open to discussion.
In a phone call to his German counterpart, Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, Austin "expressed his gratitude to Germany for continuing to serve as a great host for U.S. forces, and expressed his desire for a continued dialogue on U.S. force posture in Germany," according to a Pentagon readout of the call released Wednesday.
He also sought "to reinforce the value the United States places on the bilateral defense relationship with one of our closest NATO Allies," the readout from Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby states.
The phone call is the latest sign of the Biden administration's intent to reverse or water down the policies of former President Donald Trump, who repeatedly questioned NATO's worth to the U.S. and rattled allies with demands for more defense spending.
Last July, Trump made the surprise announcement that about 11,000 of the 36,000 U.S. troops stationed in Germany would be withdrawn.
Then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper later said that the number to be withdrawn was 12,000, adding that about half would be sent back to the U.S. and the other half redeployed further east in Europe under a long-term plan.
However, there has been little movement thus far on the withdrawal plan, according to German officials.
U.S. Africa Command headquarters, which was to have been moved elsewhere in Europe or possibly back to the States under that plan, is still in Stuttgart. It's not clear if any troops have been withdrawn from Germany yet.
The Germany withdrawal plan drew bipartisan opposition in Congress, and the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, passed over Trump's veto, includes a provision directing that troop levels in Germany be kept at 34,500 unless the defense secretary provides cost estimates and assessments of the impact of a withdrawal on NATO and military families.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.