–Says moving US troops closer to Russia necessary to ensure security
WASHINGTON: The United States plans to cut its troop levels in Afghanistan to “a number less than 5,000” by the end of November, Defence Secretary Mark Esper said in an interview broadcast on Saturday, adding detail to drawdown plans US President Donald Trump announced earlier this week.
The US currently has about 8,600 troops in Afghanistan. Trump said in an interview released Monday by Axios that the US planned to lower that number to about 4,000.
Esper also said that criticisms of the US troop reduction in Germany are unwarranted, claiming that many of these forces are simply being relocated further east in order to serve as a more effective ‘deterrent’ against Russia.
The Pentagon chief said that military personnel leaving Germany would be put to better use once they are stationed along Russia’s border.
“We are moving many troops further east, closer to Russia’s border, to deter them,” he said, adding that moving troops eastward is only logical because “the border has shifted as the alliance has grown.”
He also accused Germany of not paying its “fair share” for defense, noting that the NATO ally was still the largest “recipient” of the US troops.
“It is collective security, it is about our collective responsibility to stand up to the Russians,” Esper argued.
The Pentagon is planning to withdraw a third of its forces stationed in Germany. The troops will be redeployed across other NATO countries, including Poland. Romania and the Baltic states could also receive a boost in US forces, Esper said.
The defence secretary has been vocal about his belief that NATO members should be coughing up more cash in order to “deter” Russia. He even suffered an unfortunate gaffe in one of his recent sales pitches, after stating in a speech that sharing the alliance’s financial burden would help “avoid peace in Europe.”