Europe troop withdrawal plans 'on hold,' top general says

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Plans to draw down thousands of U.S. troops from Germany, pushed by the Trump administration, are on hold as President Joe Biden’s team reviews the decision, the commander of U.S. forces in Europe said Wednesday.

Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters, the head of U.S. European Command and NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is “in the process of conducting a very very thorough review” of the plan.

“The previous planning that was ongoing for the previous initiative has been put on freeze so that our secretary of defense and this administration could conduct a thorough review of everything that has transpired up to the point to where Sec. Austin took charge,” Wolters told reporters.

Biden, who was critical of Trump’s treatment of U.S. allies and pledged to refresh alliances, was widely expected to reverse course from his predecessor on Europe. Trump had long criticized members of the NATO alliance for not spending enough on their own defense.

Wolters added that he didn’t know what the Biden administration will decide on future troop strength in Europe.

“The new administration has comfortably stated to us that we need to conduct a thorough review, cradle to grave, in all areas,” Wolters said. “And then, after they’re allowed to conduct that review, we’ll go back to the drawing board.”

“What I will say that exists at this very moment is that every single one of those options, that they’re all on hold, and they will all be reexamined,” Wolters added of the plans.

The Trump administration’s plan, rolled out last summer, would have withdrawn 12,000 troops from Germany, about a third of the U.S. military footprint in that country. While roughly half of those troops would come home, the other half would have been deployed to other European countries. Top Pentagon officials at the time said the approach, which included deploying more rotational forces in place of troops permanently stationed abroad, would enhance deterrence against Russia.

The former administration also sought to relocate the headquarters of U.S. Africa Command from Stuttgart, Germany, though it hadn’t settled on a new location.

Pentagon leaders sought to portray the plan as part of an effort to better distribute military forces to compete with Russia, but the plan was viewed as a dig at Germany by Trump, who frequently criticized the key NATO ally for being “delinquent” on its military spending. Germany is not one of the handful of NATO countries to meet the alliance’s non-binding goal of spending two percent of their gross domestic product on defense by 2024.

The withdrawal plan was deeply unpopular with both top Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill, who argued reducing troops in Germany would embolden Russia. At a public hearing in September, members of the House Armed Services Committee castigated the Pentagon for not being forthcoming about the plan after officials who testified largely declined to share specific details.

Lawmakers had already jammed up the withdrawal effort in annual defense policy legislation, which became law over Trump’s veto in January.

The final National Defense Authorization Act bars the Pentagon from reducing U.S. forces in Germany below 34,500 until it provides Congress with a detailed analysis of how the move would affect the security situation in Europe.

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