BERLIN â€” Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin announced on Tuesday that he is expanding the U.S. military presence in Germany by 500 troops and has stopped planning for large-scale troop cuts ordered by the Trump administration.
"This planned increase in U.S. personnel underscores our commitment to Germany and the entire NATO alliance," Austin said in a notable counterpoint to the Trump administration's repeated complaints that Germany is a weak partner on defence and security.
Austin made the announcement after talks with German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer on his first tour of Europe since becoming Pentagon chief in January.
Kramp-Karrenbauer welcomed the announcement as a "strong signal" of a healthy U.S.-German relationship.
They also discussed a pending decision by President Joe Biden on whether to withdraw completely from Afghanistan by May 1, a deadline the Trump administration pledged to the Taliban militants. Germany is a key part of the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan.
Austin said at a joint news conference with Kramp-Karrenbauer that the extra 500 U.S. troops will be stationed permanently in Germany's Wiesbaden area as early as this fall.
"These forces will strengthen deterrence and defence in Europe. They will augment our existing abilities to prevent conflict, and, if necessary, fight and win," Austin said in prepared remarks.
"This move will also create more space, more cyber, and more electronic warfare capabilities in Europe," he added, and he said it will "greatly improve our ability to surge forces at a moment's notice to defend our allies."
Last year, President Donald Trump ordered the withdrawal of 12,000 troops from Germany as retribution for what he considered Germany's refusal to spend more on its own defence. Austin suspended that move shortly after taking office. He said decisions on troop levels would be made as part of a comprehensive review of the U.S. military presence around the world, including in Europe.
Austin's announcement on Tuesday is the first concrete indication that he may not carry out the Trump decision, which included moving U.S. European Command headquarters from Germany to Belgium.
The U.S. currently has about 35,000 troops in Germany.
Asked by a reporter whether the decision to add 500 troops means Washington will not carry out Trump's move, Austin said the Pentagon has "ceased planning" for troop reductions.
The German minister said she had Biden's word that "there will be no troop reduction as was previously planned."
"Today I received the pleasing announcement and assurance from Secretary Austin that, instead, 500 more will be stationed here," she said. “That's how it should be among good friends and partners – you give each other your word and keep to it."
According to U.S. Army Europe and Africa, the troops will make up two new military units and will arrive in the coming months. They will include a multi-domain task force, with artillery, air and missile defence, intelligence, cyber, space and electronic capabilities as well as a Theater Fires Command that will improve readiness and the ability of the forces to work with allies in the region.
Col. Joe Scrocca, spokesman for U.S. Army Europe and Africa, said the new commands expect to be activated in September and October.
In addition, the U.S. will retain three sites that were previously scheduled to be returned to the German government. They are Mainz Kastel Station and Mainz Kastel Housing in Mainz-Kastel and Dagger Complex in Darmstadt.
"New strategies and a continuously changing operations environment requires more capacity to ensure we have the necessary infrastructure for increased capabilities to support our Allies and partners," said Maj. Gen. Chris Mohan, commanding general for 21st Theater Sustainment Command. "We've worked closely with German officials to come to an agreement on retaining these sites and are very appreciative of their continued support."
Associated Press writer Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.
Robert Burns, The Associated Press