Lawmakers in coming days are expected to hear more details of President Donald Trump’s plan to withdraw thousands of U.S. troops from bases in Germany, but a key Senate leader is already offering his support for the plan.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said in Tuesday that he backs the idea of shifting American military forces out of Germany to create “a greater number of smaller, well-positioned bases that would increase our reach.” He said exact details still need to be worked out, but so far he sees no reason for opposition to the idea.
“Based on my conversations with (Defense) Secretary (Mark) Esper and in the briefings I’ve received so far, the goal is to optimize our force posture in Europe, in part by moving some of our forces along NATO’s eastern flank,” he said in a floor speech on the issue.
“The plan I’ve seen gives families certainty and phases the major movements over months and years to make sure we have the necessary military construction and infrastructure in place.”
Inhofe’s comments came as House lawmakers passed their draft of the annual defense authorization bill, which includes restrictions on troops withdrawals from Germany until Pentagon officials “certify that the reduction would not negatively impact U.S. and allied security,” and bars divestment of U.S. military infrastructure in Europe for the next five years.
White House officials have been planning for the last two months to begin a major drawdown of troops from the NATO ally, to include shifting at least 9,500 personnel to other bases overseas or in the United States and to cap the total number of U.S. troops stationed there at 25,000 (the total is almost 35,000 now).
Administration officials have suggested the move is designed to reduce the U.S. footprint in a single overseas allied country and instead spread out American response forces for more strategic flexibility.
Trump himself has indicated he supports the move in part because he believes Germany isn’t spending enough on national defense, and that European countries are taking advantage of American military might.
Both Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill have expressed concerns about the plan. Twenty-two GOP members of the House Armed Services Committee sent a letter to Trump last month stating that the current troop levels in Germany have “helped make America safer.”
Trump has not indicated exactly where the troops currently stationed in Germany will be relocated, but hinted that Poland and other neighboring countries may see their U.S. troop levels increase as a result of the plan.
Inhofe said he supports a “lily-pad approach to basing” and mentioned Ukraine, Bulgaria and Romania as other locations to consider. “This means a greater number of smaller, well-positioned bases that would increase our reach, reassure our allies and pressure our adversaries.”
The armed services committee chairman said he expects “detailed briefings” from defense officials on the plans in coming days. He said he will be focused on how the moves will affect force projection and how military families will be impacted.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.