BERLIN — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced on Tuesday that he is expanding the U.S. military presence in Germany by 500 troops and has stopped planning for large-scale troop cuts ordered by the Trump administration.
“This planned increase in U.S. personnel underscores our commitment to Germany and the entire NATO alliance,” Austin said in a notable counterpoint to the Trump administration’s repeated complaints that Germany is a weak partner on defense and security.
Austin made the announcement after talks with German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer on his first tour of Europe since becoming Pentagon chief in January.
The decision comes as Russia has amassed troops on its border with Ukraine.
“Russia’s actions in Georgia, its illegal annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, the continued harassment of Ukraine and other bordering nations, its military build-up, and its increasing use of cyberattacks are concerns in Europe,” according to a Pentagon media release. “Germany is no exception; as the economic powerhouse of the continent, Germany is key to responding to these provocations.”
The increase reverses the policy of the previous administration, the Pentagon statement said, which looked to drastically reduce the number of U.S. forces based in Germany. President Joe Biden announced a policy to freeze that process, which included moving the headquarters for the Stuttgart-based U.S. European Command and U.S. Africa Command. The president ordered a global posture review to determine how to best station U.S. forces around the world.
“Germany is one of our staunchest allies, and our relationship is built on shared values of freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law,” Austin said. “Today, those principles are increasingly under duress. Amid shifting global dynamics and a challenging security environment, Germany will continue to be an important security and economic partner for the United States in the years ahead.”
Kramp-Karrenbauer welcomed the announcement as a “strong signal” of a healthy U.S.-German relationship.
They also discussed a pending decision by Biden on whether to withdraw completely from Afghanistan by May 1, a deadline the Trump administration pledged to the Taliban militants. Germany is a key part of the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan.
Austin said at a joint news conference with Kramp-Karrenbauer that the extra 500 U.S. troops will be stationed permanently in Germany’s Wiesbaden area as early as this fall.
“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 in prepared remarks.
“This move will also create more space, more cyber, and more electronic warfare capabilities in Europe,” he added, and he said it will “greatly improve our ability to surge forces at a moment’s notice to defend our allies.”
Army plus up
U.S. Army Europe and Africa will receive two new units in the coming months and retain three sites previously scheduled to be returned to the German government due to growing operational requirements in the European theater, officials said in a media release Tuesday morning.
The units will be a Multi-Domain Task Force and Theater Fires Command. Combined, they will bring approximately 500 Soldiers, 35 local national positions and 750 Family members to U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden.
The Multi-Domain Task Force-Europe will be comprised of field artillery; composite air and missile defense; intelligence, cyberspace, electronic warfare and space; aviation and a brigade support element. The Theater Fires Command will improve readiness and multi-national interoperability by integrating joint and multi-national fires in exercises and operations, in support of U.S. Army Europe and Africa.
“The Theater Fires Command and Multi-Domain Task Force in Europe will enable U.S. Army Europe and Africa to synchronize joint fires and effects, control future long range fires across all domains and will create more space, cyber and electronic warfare capabilities in Europe,” said Col. Joe Scrocca, the spokesman for U.S. Army Europe and Africa, said in the release.
The Theater Fires Command is expected to activate Oct. 16 and the Multi-Domain Task Force is expected to activate on Sept. 16 . The sites that will be retained are Mainz Kastel Station and Mainz Kastel Housing in Mainz-Kastel, and Dagger Complex in Darmstadt.
“Our operational requirements are outpacing facility construction and renovations as we continue to work through setting facility conditions for the new units we expect to receive as Army approves the structure,” according to the release. “We are thankful for all of our host nation employees, without whom we could not accomplish our important mission.
“New strategies and a continuously changing operations environment requires more capacity to ensure we have the necessary infrastructure for increased capabilities to support our Allies and partners,” Maj. Gen. Chris Mohan, commanding general for 21st Theater Sustainment Command, said in the release. “We’ve worked closely with German officials to come to an agreement on retaining these sites and are very appreciative of their continued support.”
Putting the breaks on withdrawal
Last year, President Donald Trump ordered the withdrawal of 12,000 troops from Germany as retribution for what he considered Germany’s refusal to spend more on its own defense. Austin suspended that move shortly after taking office. He said decisions on troop levels would be made as part of a comprehensive review of the U.S. military presence around the world, including in Europe.
Austin’s announcement on Tuesday is the first concrete indication that he may not carry out the Trump decision, which included moving U.S. European Command headquarters from Germany to Belgium.
The U.S. currently has about 35,000 troops in Germany.
Asked by a reporter whether the decision to add 500 troops means Washington will not carry out Trump’s move, Austin said the Pentagon has “ceased planning” for troop reductions.
The German minister said she had 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.”
Associated Press writer Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.
Howard Altman is an award-winning editor and reporter who was previously the military reporter for the Tampa Bay Times and before that the Tampa Tribune, where he covered USCENTCOM, USSOCOM and SOF writ large among many other topics.