The U.S. European Command chief Air Force General Tod Wolters said to the media via telephone on Wednesday morning that the previous plan of withdrawing some 11,000 troops from Germany has been put on hold.
“Previous planning that was ongoing for the previous initiative has been put on freeze,” Gen. Wolters said.
“At this very moment, every single one of those options, they are all on hold. They will all be re-examined from cradle to grave,” Wolters added.
Former President Trump had called for the relocation of the U.S. European Command from Stuttgart to Mons, Belgium, the return to the U.S. of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, which is currently based in Vilseck, Germany, as well as several other moves.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has begun “a very thorough review” of the proposed withdrawal put forth by the previous administration’s Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Wolters said.
The move proposed by President Trump had come after a series of disagreements with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The president had frequently called out the Germans for not “paying their share” for their common defense. He had demanded that Germany spend two percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for defense by 2024.
“Our troops are there to protect Germany, right? And Germany is supposed to pay for it. Germany’s not paying for it. We don’t want to be the suckers anymore. The United States has been taken advantage of for 25 years, both on trade and on the military. So we’re reducing the force because they’re not paying their bills,” President Trump said last year.
He was also critical of Merkel’s decision to rely on Russia for the majority of Germany’s energy needs, even calling the chancellor “stupid” on one occasion. Defense Secretary Esper had tried to justify the move by stating that the Cold War-era troop deployments needed to be adjusted to meet modern threats.
General Wolters stood by the repositioning at the time but was placed in a no-win position. Now he is taking a measured response to the change.
“At the time, based off of the guidance given, those options that were addressed in the public domain were the ones we thought most clearly addressed the advantages,” he said. “Every single one of those options, they’re all on hold.”
“They can have a comprehensive look at all of the actions from A to Z, and how every one of those impact on our larger deterrence and security picture. I want to make sure that I give our senior civilian leadership the appropriate maneuvering space to make sure that we can collectively go forward in the future.”
The news would have been an economic loss for several German towns and cities. The 4,500 American troops in Vilseck, nearly match the 6,400 citizens of the town. However, of the troops that were slated to be withdrawn, 5,600 were to be relocated to other European countries, mainly Belgium and Italy.
In their review, the Biden administration and Secretary Austin are looking at deterrence and Germany’s security from the Russian threat. “That’s exactly what our new secretary of defense needs: to make sure we can continue to do the things in Europe that we need to do to build more peace,” General Wolters said.