Mark Esper, the U.S. Secretary of Defense, announced earlier last week that European Command EUCOM will relocate from Stuttgart, Germany to the NATO headquarters in Mons, Belgium. He also ordered Africa Command (AFRICOM) to draw up plans to relocate its headquarters. But unlike EUCOM, there is not a place for AFRICOM to go.
As part of the Trump administration’s drawdown in Germany, 11,900 personnel who are currently stationed in Germany, will be repositioned to other locations, Esper said. Of the troops leaving Germany 5,600 will remain in Europe at other locations and 6,400 will return to the United States. The move will reduce the number of U.S. military personnel in Germany from about 36,000 to 24,000. Germany will still be the NATO country hosting the most U.S. troops.
EUCOM and Special Operations Command Europe will move to NATO HQs in an effort to speed and clarify the decision-making process and have greater operational alignment with our allies. The hope is that the same thinking will apply to AFRICOM and Special Operations Command Africa (SOCAFRICA). Yet, this might not be as simple.
Africa is three times the size of the United States, and AFRICOM/SOCAFRICA engage with our partners in over half of the continent’s 54 countries. Yet, there has always been an issue on the continent with placing U.S. HQs there.
Ever since the Bush administration created AFRICOM in 2008, there has been pushback from all of the African countries regarding the U.S. and the militarization of American foreign policy in the continent. Because of this, the command was placed in Stuttgart. But even with the airfield hub for Africa also in Stuttgart, the HQs were too far away to effectively engage with our troops and allies. The plan had always been for Stuttgart to be a temporary home and the command to find a permanent solution down the road. That time is rapidly approaching.
Yet, there do not seem to be any plans on-deck at the present time. U.S. Army General Stephen Townsend, the Commander of AFRICOM, released a statement saying, “U.S. Africa Command has been told to plan to move. While it will likely take several months to develop options, consider locations, and come to a decision, the command has started the process. We will ensure we continue to support our host nation and African partners and our families and forces throughout.”
“It is important our African partners understand our commitment to them remains strong,” Townsend said. “U.S. Africa Command will continue to work with our African and other partners to address mutual interests.”
“We are very grateful to Germany for [its] partnership and serving as host to Headquarters U.S. Africa Command. International cooperation remains important [in] addressing mutual security challenges, especially in Africa,” Townsend added.
One thing not being considered, according to defense department sources, is a relocation to Africa. The Pentagon and AFRICOM will look to another base in Europe. Failing that, it may relocate back to the United States. There have been discussions on relocating the HQs to Tampa that also houses the Central Command, which oversees troops and operations in the Middle East.
“The team will look at available infrastructure, housing, access to transportation, adequate medical care, and a range of other consideration factors,” said Colonel Chris Karns, AFRICOM’s spokesman.
“It will be a deliberate and orderly approach and process,” he added. “It was important to let partners, as well as personnel and families, know that planning is underway.”
Esper framed the relocation of troops from Germany as a strategic move to better counter Russia, but the president has been extremely critical of Germany’s failure to live up to their own defense. “We’re reducing the force because they’re not paying their bills. It’s very simple. They’re delinquent,” Trump said. He told reporters that the U.S. was tired of being “suckers.”
The cost of moving the troops and headquarters is expected to be in the billions of dollars.