WASHINGTON (AP) – The Department of Defense is investigating the options to begin drawing about 10,000 troops from Germany, as directed by President Donald Trump. However, while some are moving to neighboring Poland, the withdrawal will still pose complex logistical challenges and will not happen soon.
While the Pentagon can quickly relocate its forces in emergency situations, transferring thousands of troops to new assignments at home or in other countries requires a series of decisions – many of which involve families, such as finding new housing or finding new jobs for spouses and schools for children.
US officials said no final decisions have been made as to where those troops will go. But the issue will certainly be an important topic, as Polish President Andrzej Duda will meet with Trump on Wednesday. According to an agreement announced last year, the US plans to send about 1,000 more troops to Poland, and progress is being made, officials say, to lay the groundwork for those movements.
A senior official, who anonymously informed reporters on Tuesday in accordance with the basic rules for the call, said it is premature to say when troops can be transferred from Germany.
Trump has said he is determined to reduce the number of troops in Germany from about 35,000 to 25,000. The rumors of troops have been leaving the country for quite some time and are in line with the Pentagon’s efforts to place more troops in the Indo-Pacific. But Trump’s comments last week suggested the move is more directly related to his anger at Germany’s failure to meet NATO’s defense spending goals.
“Several thousand troops currently assigned to Germany could be transferred to other countries in Europe,” said Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, in an opinion published Tuesday in The Wall Street Journal. “Thousands of people can expect to be transferred to the Indo-Pacific, where the US has a military presence in Guam, Hawaii, Alaska and Japan, but can also be deployed to locations such as Australia.”
A number of congressmen have objected to Trump’s decision, and some republicans sent him a letter outlining their concerns. Republican Michael McCaul, R-Texas, “pulls out the troops” and can do more to harm the national security interests of the US and our NATO allies and partners than to encourage Germany to contribute more. “
Lieutenant Colonel Carla Gleason, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said it “is working with the United States European Command in accordance with the President’s directive.” She said the department’s priorities include deterring Russia, which is an important part of any build-up in Poland. Under the agreement with Poland, the US will add a division headquarters, combat training center, unmanned aerial squadron, and support structure to an army brigade that could turn in and out of the country.
Mark Cancian, a senior advisor to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said on Tuesday that while the military can move quickly in emergencies, the Pentagon prefers to be cautious and systematic in ensuring that unit readiness is not is being influenced.
“They must have facilities to move in,” he said. “They have to figure out what to do with the families. … where are they going to live? Are they going to build family homes? ‘
Most troops in Germany are assigned there and are not deployed in the short term. Their families are with them, they have homes, and their husbands may have jobs. The Pentagon will have to find them new assignments and housing, and then arrange removals.
The outbreak of the coronavirus has made such movements – especially overseas transfers – much more complicated and time-consuming. Months earlier this year, the Pentagon halted the movement of most troops, delaying thousands of routine scheduled transfers. Those delays have accumulated, which could influence new decisions.
“The pandemic is slowing everything down,” said Cancian. “If you are going to ship equipment, the process of getting the equipment ready to ship and leaving the house just takes longer.”
Even returning troops to the US will take time and planning to identify their new bases, jobs, and housing.
In total, the US has approximately 47,000 troops and civilian personnel in Germany, spread over a number of bases, headquarters and smaller facilities. The majority of the 35,000 active units are located in a handful of larger army and air base bases, including Ramstein Air Base, a hub in the region. There are also 2,600 national guard and reserve troops in Germany and nearly 12,000 civilians work for the services or the Ministry of Defense.
Two of the 11 commanders of the combatants of the army are also located there, the US European Command and the US Africa Command. It is not certain whether there would be cuts to that headquarters, but Africa Command was looking for reductions before.
The Army’s primary hospital outside the U.S., the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center is also located in Germany. It has a staff of nearly 2,000 soldiers and civilians, and thousands of troops injured in the recent wars have been treated there.
The largest presence of U.S. forces in Germany is of the military, with more than 21,000 soldiers in more than a dozen locations. The largest concentration of soldiers is located in Vilseck, where the 2nd Cavalry Regiment is located. Other major bases are in Kaiserslautern, home to a number of medical and logistics units, and Grafenwöhr, where the U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria is based.
The U.S. Air Force has nearly 13,000 troops in Germany, mainly concentrated on two major bases. The 52nd Fighter Wing, which flies F-16 jets, is located at Ramstein Air Base. The 86th Airlift Wing, which operates C-130 cargo transport aircraft and the smaller C-37 and C-21 passenger aircraft, is located at Spangdalhem Air Base.
According to the Air Force, there are approximately 8,500 Air Force personnel in Ramstein and approximately 4,000 in Spangdalhem.
Associated Press writer Deb Riechmann contributed to this report.
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