US increases military presence in Germany in reversal of Trump policy

German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (C-L) walks with new US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (C) upon his arrival at the Defense Ministry in Berlin, Germany, 13 April 2021. [EPA-EFE/Sean Gallup / POOL]

The US announced on Tuesday (13 April) it will ramp up its forces by 500  additional troops in Germany amid the latest tensions with Russia over Ukraine, in a reversal of former President Donald Trump’s plans to cut troops in the fellow NATO country by a third.

Last June Trump announced his intention to withdraw around 12,000 of the 36,000 troops from Germany, saying Berlin had been taking advantage of the US while not meeting its defence spending obligations to NATO.

The plans were put on hold and under review this February, just after the new Biden administration had taken office.

Biden’s move is seen as a symbolic gesture of solidarity with Germany and European NATO allies, which also fills a practical need that commanders in Europe had identified months ago.

US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin, speaking in Berlin alongside his German counterpart, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, said the extra troops will have a role in space, cybersecurity and electronic warfare and “greatly improve” the US ability “to surge forces at a moment’s notice to defend our allies.”

“In keeping with my pledge to consult with allies and partners today, I briefed the minister on our intention to permanently station approximately 500 additional personnel in the Wiesbaden area as early as this fall,” Austin said.

“These forces will strengthen deterrence and defence in Europe. They will augment our existing abilities to prevent conflict, and, if necessary, fight and win,” Austin added.

“This planned increase in US personnel underscores our commitment to Germany and the entire NATO alliance,” he added.

Austin also commended Germany’s upcoming naval deployment to the Indo-Pacific region, calling it a “tangible sign of Germany’s commitment to project stability and uphold a rules-based international order.”

Kramp-Karrenbauer welcomed the announcement as “strong signal” of a renewed US-German relationship.

The Pentagon chief evaded questions about whether the deployment of additional troops should be interpreted as a message to Russia amid renewed tensions over Ukraine but stressed the military value for NATO of having more boots on the ground in Europe.

“These forces will strengthen deterrence and defence, and they will augment our existing abilities to prevent conflict and if necessary to fight and win,” he said.

“It will greatly improve our ability to surge forces at a moment’s notice to defend our allies,” he added.

The West has expressed concern in recent weeks over a huge build-up of Russian forces close to Ukraine’s eastern border and in Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014.

On Tuesday (13 April), NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called on Russia to withdraw troops that the alliance says Moscow is massing on Ukraine’s borders, ahead of an emergency meeting of allied foreign and defence ministers.

Ukraine mobilises NATO's diplomatic and political means over Russia troops build-up

After Kyiv and Moscow traded blame over the worsening situation in the eastern Donbas region, Ukraine was able to mobilise its Western allies at political level, with several high-level meetings planned this week.

According to US Army Europe and Africa (USAREUR-AF), the additional US troops will make up two new military units.

One of the two new units will involve field artillery, composite air and missile defense, intelligence, cyberspace, electronic warfare, aviation and a brigade support element. The other will be a command to improve the way different countries cooperate during joint operations, the USAREUR-AF said in a statement on Tuesday.

In addition, the US will retain three sites that were previously scheduled to be returned to the German government.

“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,” US Major General Chris Mohan said

“We’ve worked closely with German officials to come to an agreement on retaining these sites and are very appreciative of their continued support,” he added.

On Wednesday, Austin plans to travel to NATO headquarters in Brussels for an extraordinary session of NATO foreign and defence ministers after US President Joe Biden had decided to remove troops from Afghanistan by 11 September, the 20th anniversary of the 2001 attacks, missing a 1 May deadline negotiated by the Trump administration.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also headed to Brussels to meet with European and NATO allies on a range of issues, including Russia’s build-up of forces along the border with Ukraine.

The double visit comes three weeks after Blinken was in Brussels for a summit with his counterparts from NATO member states.

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