Defense Secretary Gen. Lloyd Austin with German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer in Berlin this week. (Photo by Kay Nietfeld/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)
Berlin (CNSnews.com) – The Biden administration has pledged to boost U.S. troop numbers in Germany by another 500, in a reversal of the Trump administration’s move last year to reduce the footprint in the country.
Defense Secretary Gen. Lloyd Austin made the announcement during his first diplomatic trip to Berlin, saying Germany would receive 500 more U.S. troops, forming two new units – the Multi-Domain Task Force expected to be activated in September, and the Theater Fires Command, expected to be activated the following month.
President Trump last year ordered the withdrawal of 12,000 of the 35,000 U.S. troops stationed in Germany, including a redeployment of 5,500 to neighboring Poland.
Trump linked the decision to his unhappiness that Germany’s defense spending level falls below the agreed NATO target of two percent of national gross domestic product. “We’re reducing the force because they’re not paying their bills; it’s very simple,” he said at the time.
Before the withdrawal could begin, President Biden placed Trump’s order on pause pending a review, but when asked by reporters in Berlin, Austin said the Pentagon has now “ceased planning” for troop reductions in Germany.
German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said she had received Biden’s word that “there will be no troop reduction as was previously planned.”
“Today I received the pleasing announcement and assurance from Secretary Austin that, instead, 500 more will be stationed here,” she said. “That’s how it should be among good friends and partners – you give each other your word and keep to it.”
Austin signaled a more lenient attitude toward Germany’s military expenditure, acknowledging German steps to increase defense spending and modernize its forces.
“We all recognize the pressures each of our nations face when it comes to spending, but it’s important to – to maintain that momentum, especially in this era of increased strategic competition,” he said.
How a reversal of Trump’s reduction may affect Poland, which had been set to benefit from the reallocation of 5,500 forces there, remains unclear.
The announcement comes amid tensions over a buildup of Russian troops near the Ukrainian border and in Russian-annexed Crimea.
Asked on Tuesday whether the troops to Germany decision was intended to send a message to Russia, Austin said it was instead a message of support to NATO. But he added that the forces would improve the alliance’s ability to “surge” forces on demand.
“This planned increase in U.S. personnel underscores our commitment to Germany and the entire NATO alliance,” Austin said. “We support NATO to the fullest extent, and most importantly we value the relationship with our partner here in Germany.”
“These forces will strengthen deterrence and defense in Europe. They will augment our existing abilities to prevent conflict, and, if necessary, fight and win,” Austin said. “It will greatly improve our ability to surge forces at a moment’s notice to defend our allies.”
In an interview with Polish radio broadcaster Polskie Radio 24, Maksym Khylko, chairman of the East European Security Research Initiative Foundation, said Russian President Vladimir Putin was testing Biden.
“Another goal of the Kremlin is to test the determination of U.S. President Joe Biden and his administration,” Khylko said. “We saw Biden’s harsh statements [against Russia], but Moscow wants to see if the White House is also ready to back these words with no less decisive action.”
“We must also not forget that parliamentary elections will be held in Russia this fall,” said Khylko. “The socio-economic situation in Russia has been deteriorating for many years … and the Kremlin has nothing to offer other than another attempt to mobilize the nationalist electorate under the pretext of a false external threat.”
A day after the Germany troop announcement, NATO members confirmed on Wednesday they will join the U.S.’ plan to begin withdrawing forces from Afghanistan with effect from May 1.
“We went into Afghanistan together, we have adjusted our posture together, and we are united in leaving together,” NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said at a joint press conference with Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken after a virtual meeting of NATO foreign and defense ministers.
“Allies and partners will continue to stand with the Afghan people, but it is now for the Afghan people to build a sustainable peace,” he said.
In addition to U.S. forces in Afghanistan, around 7,000 soldiers from other NATO allies and non-NATO partners are in the country. Germany, with the second largest troop contingent of around 1,100 soldiers, already confirmed ahead of the meeting that it would withdraw with the U.S.
“We have always said: We are going in together, and we are going out together,” Kramp-Karrenbauer told German public broadcaster ARD.