Defense Secretary Mark Esper said today Germany is "disappointed" by President Trump's decision to withdraw 12,000 U.S. troops, but added that some of them could be redeployed to Romania or elsewhere in Eastern Europe.
While the Trump administration has said it plans to redeploy the troops to Italy, Belgium and the United States, Esper's statement that the troops could be heading to Eastern Europe is a new development.
Esper, who spoke during a virtual event hosted by the Aspen Institute, said he envisions deploying rotational forces to Romania, the Baltic states and Poland.
The United States this week signed an "enhanced defense cooperation agreement" with Poland to gradually increase American troop levels by 1,000 rotational personnel. This is in addition to the 4,500 U.S. troops already in Poland on a rotational basis.
The increase in troops levels comes with other military infrastructure investments Poland has agreed to fund.
While Pentagon officials have said the decision to withdraw 12,000 troops from Germany and redeploy them elsewhere is a strategic decision that would benefit NATO, Trump has said the move is based on money.
Last week, Trump, who has had a tense relationship with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said he doesn't want the United States to be the "suckers" in its military arrangement with Germany and said Berlin was "delinquent" in paying for its own security.
"We're reducing the force because they're not paying their bills," he said. "It's very simple, they're delinquent."
NATO nations have agreed to spend 2% of their gross domestic product on defense, but many member countries, including Germany, have yet to reach that level.
"The United States has been taken advantage of, on trade and on military and everything else for many years. And I'm here, and I've been straightening it out," Trump said. "Germany owes billions and billions of dollars to NATO. And why would we keep all of our troops there?"
The move to withdraw U.S. troops from Germany has been criticized in Congress, where some Republicans like Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-OK) say they support the president, but stress they will continue to monitor the situation. However, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) has called the troop withdrawal a "gift to Russia."
Democrats like House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-WA) oppose the withdrawal and say the move is shortsighted.
"President Trump has made a habit of bullying our partners and allies into executing his wishes and on his timeline under the guise of his foolish 'America First' policy," Smith said in a statement. "Threatening to withdraw the U.S. military presence from a region after demanding payments is a perfect example of policy that may appear to put America First, while in reality it strains our relationships with partners and allies and undermines our national security."
Esper, meanwhile, noted that 24,000 U.S. troops with remain in Germany. He also said the reaction to the move has "generally been positive" among NATO nations.