Thursday

29th Oct 2020

US 'cavalry' leaving Germany to go back home

  • 2nd Cavalry Regiment on parade in Romania (Photo: nato.int)

The US is to pull thousands of combat soldiers out of Germany back to America in a political blow by president Donald Trump.

The 2nd Cavalry Regiment, a battle-hardened, 4,500-strong infantry force based in Vilseck, in south-east Germany, will be moved back to the US in the first retreat of its type since the Cold War, the US department of defence announced on Wednesday (29 July).

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  • US president Donald Trump made political motives clear (Photo: whitehouse.gov)

Another 1,900 US soldiers from other locations mostly in the vicinity of Stuttgart, in south-west Germany, will also be going back to America.

And some 5,600 more troops will be shifted out of Germany to Belgium and Italy, with Belgium to get US command HQs and air-defence and engineering battalions, while Italy is to get an F-16 fighter jet squadron and a civil engineering squadron.

The Italian moves will be the first in line and could start in a matter of weeks.

The German withdrawals were first announced in June, but the details came out on Wednesday.

Pulling the 2nd Cavalry Regiment back to America would "allow those units to regain maximum US at-home-station readiness and more effectively support global contingencies while still maintaining a keen focus on Europe," Tod Wolters, a senior US general, said.

The German pull-back would also help the US to "rotate" more forces in and out Poland, the Baltic states, Bulgaria, and Romania in future, the US secretary of defence, Mark Esper, noted.

Those kinds of rotations meant US troops would be ready to deter potential Russian aggression in the region by "deploying at a much higher level of readiness", he said.

Rotating US troops would also "not [be] constrained, if you will, with knowing that their families are back in Germany," he added.

"We're moving forces out of central Europe - Germany, where they had been since the Cold War, since I first traveled there in the early 1980s - and we're now moving, we're following, in many ways, the boundary east, where our newest allies are," Esper said.

The German exodus will still leave some 24,000 US soldiers in place - the highest number in any European country - the US defence chiefs pointed out.

But strategic motives aside, another reason why Germany was losing out was because it had not lived up to its Nato promise to spend two-percent of GDP on defence, the US said.

"Let's be clear, I think Germany is the wealthiest country in Europe. Germany can and should pay more to its defence," Esper noted.

He admitted that building new facilities in Belgium, Italy, and the US to house the troops would also be costly, however.

"It'll take several billion dollars, I'd say, single digits, but ... that'll be spread out over time," Esper said.

The fact Belgium and Italy spend even less of their GDP than Germany on defence also undermined the US' meritocratic rationale.

Trumpism

And Trump's rhetoric outside the White House, on Wednesday, made clear the military move was a political punishment for other disagreements with Germany, including on trade.

"We spend a lot of money on Germany. They take advantage of us on trade and they take advantage on the military, so we're reducing the force," he said.

"They [US forces] are there to protect Europe. They're there to protect Germany and Germany is supposed to pay for it," Trump added.

"We don't want to be responsible anymore," he said.

One opposition Democratic Party senator, Jack Reed, described Trump's decision as "a self-inflicted wound ... against American interests" because it would harm transatlantic ties.

And a senior senator from Trump's own Republican Party agreed.

"The administration's plan to remove thousands of US troops from Germany is a grave error. It is a slap in the face at a friend and ally," Mitt Romney said.

"It is a gift to Russia ... the move may temporarily play well in domestic politics, but its consequences will be lasting and harmful to American interests," he said, ahead of Trump's upcoming re-election bid.

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