Security Brief

Trump’s Germany Troop Withdrawal Could Take Years to Execute

U.S. service members are told that the planning for the drawdown is slow out of the gate.

A soldier wears a U.S. flag on his uniform during the Allied Spirit X international military exercises at the U.S. 7th Army training center on April 9, 2019 near Hohenfels, Germany.
A soldier wears a U.S. flag on his uniform during the Allied Spirit X international military exercises at the U.S. 7th Army training center on April 9, 2019 near Hohenfels, Germany. Lennart Preiss/Getty Images)

Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Security Brief. What’s on tap today: Confusion follows U.S. President Donald Trump’s order to withdraw some U.S. troops from Germany, a Republican ally of Trump holds up a controversial Pentagon nomination, and the Afghanistan peace talks stumble forward.

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Germany Troop Withdrawal Could Take Years

While the Pentagon has rushed to begin plans to draw down troops from Germany at the president’s request, some U.S. service members stationed there are being told that these moves will take years to carry out, according to documents obtained by Foreign Policy and interviews with U.S. officials.

Some units that are moving back to the United States, including the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, based in Vilseck, Germany, have been told that the move will “likely take months to plan and years to execute.”

Slow out of the gate? U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said yesterday that some moves would begin “within weeks,” while other troop movements would take longer. But the development could be another sign that the planning for the drawdown in Germany is more disorderly than previously thought. During a press briefing announcing the move yesterday, Esper said the moves would cost in the “single-digit billions” of dollars, but Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Hyten quickly countered that the figure was a “rough estimate.”

“Nobody really has any idea how this will play out,” another U.S. official told Foreign Policy, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Any such plan will have to clear significant hurdles in Congress, where troop withdrawals face opposition from both Democrats and Republicans. It is also unclear whether the withdrawal would move forward if Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden wins in November: All signals so far indicate he opposes the move.

Impact beyond German borders. U.S. military installations in Germany are an important hub and launchpad for U.S. operations across Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. U.S. Africa Command is currently based in Stuttgart. On NATO’s vulnerable eastern flank, any reinforcement of U.S. troops to the Baltic region would come from Germany. So any disruption would have ripple effects well beyond German borders.

U.S. officials said what has rattled Berlin and other European allies is not the withdrawal of troops itself—past presidents have also ordered a drawdown in U.S. troops from Germany—but the chaotic process through which it was done. Allies were kept in the dark, the White House and the Pentagon are sending conflicting signals, and there is confusion over why which forces are being moved where.

Movers and Shakers

Ta-ta to Tata? The Senate Armed Services Committee abruptly cancelled a confirmation hearing for Trump’s controversial pick to lead the Pentagon’s policy shop today, just an hour before the panel was set to consider the nomination. In a statement, Armed Services Chairman and Trump ally Sen. Jim Inhofe said that many Democrats and Republicans “didn’t know enough” about Anthony Tata and that the powerful panel did not receive required documents for the hearing until Wednesday.

Inhofe said he told Trump that the committee was “out of time” with August recess coming, “so it wouldn’t serve any useful purpose to have a hearing at this point, and he agreed.”

The postponement leaves further confusion about the nomination; Democrats on the panel oppose the pick, sending a letter urging Tata to step aside after his tweets surfaced falsely labelling former President Barack Obama as a “terrorist leader” and hinting—without evidence—that former CIA director John Brennan ordered Trump’s assassination. CNN reported on Thursday that the White House had requested the Senate pull the nomination. 

New MI6 Chief. Richard Moore is slated to replace Alex Younger as the chief of MI6, Britain’s premiere foreign intelligence agency. Moore, a former intelligence official and diplomat, served as the U.K. ambassador to Turkey from 2014 to 2017.

New Arctic envoy. The State Department this week appointed James DeHart as the new U.S. envoy for the Arctic. DeHart, a career foreign service officer, takes the post at a time when the United States is increasingly concerned about China’s and Russia’s designs in the Arctic.

White House nominations. The White House this week sent three nominations for senior national security posts to the Senate this week: Craig Duehring to be deputy under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness; Douglas MacGregor to be ambassador to Germany; and Eric Ueland to be under secretary of state for civilian security, democracy, and human rights.  

What We’re Watching

Pompeo heads to the hill. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday, with Russia and China the top focus of the hearing. Pompeo faces criticism from top Democrats on the committee, which just released a report on the administration’s “decimation” of the State Department. Pompeo, testifying before the committee for the first time since April 2019, defended the administration’s policies on Russia but did not say whether he had addressed the Russians on specific allegations Moscow was paying bounties to Afghan militants to target U.S. troops.

During the hearing, Pompeo also reiterated his hardline stance on China, calling the Chinese Communist Party “the central threat of our times.”

Not going anywhere. Russia is continuing to send supplies to Libya to bolster the capabilities of the Wagner group, a constellation of private military contractors helping Moscow carve out a stake in the North African country, according to U.S. Africa Command. Overhead imagery captured a wide range of Russian military equipment near the coastal city of Sirte, where Libyan National Army Gen. Khalifa Haftar is making what could be his last stand.

These reports come as authorities in Minsk have accused Russia of sending in Wagner operatives to Belarus ahead of the country’s presidential election this month, though many experts believe Russia is only using Belarus as a transit point on the way to other hotspots like Libya, as FP’s Amy Mackinnon reports.

Afghanistan cease-fires. On July 28, the Taliban announced it would observe a three-day ceasefire during the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha, beginning Friday. The annual move could ease tensions between the two sides amid fraught peace negotiations. The cease-fire comes after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced that his government would soon complete the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners, paving the way for the opening of inter-Afghan talks.

Foreign Policy Recommends

 The color of diplomacy. Kip Whittington, a currently-serving foreign service officer, writes a must-read personal essay in War on the Rocks about the State Department’s shortcomings on racism and diversity.

The Week Ahead

On Friday, July 31, the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the International Security Program are hosting an online discussion with General James C. McConville, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, about the Indo-Pacific.

The Belarusian presidential election takes place on August 9. Incumbent President Aleksandr Lukashenko is running for a sixth term in office in what many international observers expect will be an unfair and rigged election (despite facing a surprising opposition challenge).

That’s it for today.

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Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

Jack Detsch is Foreign Policy’s Pentagon and national security reporter. Twitter: @JackDetsch

Dan Haverty is a former editorial fellow at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @dan_haverty

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