NATO chief says US to consult allies on future troop plans

U.S. & World

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a video conference of NATO Defense Minister at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, Wednesday, June 17, 2020. NATO Defense Ministers began two days of video talks focused on deterring Russian aggression and a US decision to withdraw thousands of troops from Germany. (Francois Lenoir, Pool Photo via AP)

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BRUSSELS (AP) — The United States remains committed to its European allies and has pledged to consult them on any future U.S. troop moves in Europe, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday, after President Donald Trump’s surprise announcement that he plans to pull thousands of personnel out of Germany.

Trump said Monday that he is ordering a major reduction in troop strength in Germany, from around 34,500 personnel down to 25,000. Members of his own party have criticized the move as a gift to Russia and a threat to U.S. national security. Germany is a hub for U.S. operations in the Middle East and Africa.

Speaking after chairing a video meeting of NATO defense ministers, Stoltenberg said that Defense Secretary Mark Esper “stated very strongly that of course the U.S. stays committed to European security, and the United States will consult with other allies as we move forward.”

“No final decision has been made on how and when to implement the U.S. intention,” Stoltenberg said.

Germany wasn’t notified of the move, which came after Trump branded its NATO ally “delinquent” for failing to pay enough for its own defense, by falling short of a goal set in 2014 for members to halt budget cuts and move toward spending at least 2% of gross national product on defense by 2024.

A number of NATO diplomats and officials have suggested the pullout — which would be costly and might not even be logistically possible before the U.S. elections in November — probably won’t happen.

Stoltenberg said that the United States and Poland, in consultation with NATO, had decided to boost the U.S. troop presence there, but he provided no details.

Asked whether European allies and Canada are concerned that Trump might announce a complete troop withdrawal from Afghanistan as the election approaches, NATO’s top civilian official said only that Esper had given the ministers a detailed briefing on U.S. plans.

Stoltenberg said more talks will take place among NATO allies and their partners in the conflict-ravaged country, but that any drawdown would be based on whether the Taliban are complying with their commitments to the peace agreement.

Separately, the ministers endorsed a series of measures they’ve been preparing for more than a year to respond to Russia’s development of nuclear capable medium-range missiles and hypersonic weapons, and what NATO says is Moscow’s intimidation of European allies.

Stoltenberg said a number of allies are buying new air and missile defense systems and some are investing in advanced fighter aircraft. The 30-nation military alliance is also boosting its intelligence gathering and sharing, and plans more war games.

Stoltenberg said the ministers also “decided on additional steps to keep the NATO nuclear deterrent safe, secure and effective,” without elaborating. But he insisted that NATO countries don’t plan to “mirror Russia” by deploying new land-based nuclear missiles in Europe.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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