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In a May, 2016 photo, an American tanker riding a M1A2 SEP Abrams battle tank heads to the firing range as part of the 2016 Strong Europe Tank Challenge held at the Grafenwoehr, Germany, training area.

In a May, 2016 photo, an American tanker riding a M1A2 SEP Abrams battle tank heads to the firing range as part of the 2016 Strong Europe Tank Challenge held at the Grafenwoehr, Germany, training area. (Stars and Stripes)

STUTTGART, Germany — More than 20 Republican lawmakers on Tuesday urged President Donald Trump to reject a plan that calls for pulling nearly 10,000 troops from Germany, saying the move would weaken the NATO alliance and encourage Russian aggression.

Rep. Mac Thornberry, the minority leader of the House Armed Services Committee, along with 21 other House Republicans, said maintaining force levels in Europe is directly connected to American security.

“In Europe, the threats posed by Russia have not lessened, and we believe that signs of a weakened U.S. commitment to NATO will encourage further Russian aggression and opportunism,” Thornberry’s letter stated.

Last week, media reports emerged that the White House signed off on a plan to sharply cut the number of forces in Germany. On Monday, the White House declined to confirm the reports, but also did not reject their validity.

“We have no announcements at this time,” White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said.

The Pentagon also has not commented publicly on the plan, which if carried out would be the largest force reduction in Europe in nearly a decade and come at a time when the military has sought to build up on the Continent to focus on countering Russia.

The cutback, first reported by the Wall Street Journal on Friday, set a September deadline for the drawdown and took allies by surprise. Trump has long made threats about pulling back in Europe and expressed dissatisfaction with allies in Europe, especially Germany, over lackluster military spending. Berlin has long fallen short of NATO benchmarks that call for all allies to dedicate 2% of GDP to their own militaries. Germany’s military shortcomings have dominated Trump’s outlook on NATO.

Still, numerous former military officials and conservative security analysts aligned with Trump on other matters have taken issue with the White House on the plan to scale back in Europe.

The conservative Heritage Foundation on Tuesday stated that any plan to reduce troops in Germany misunderstands the role of U.S. forces in Europe, which exist not to protect Germany but to advance U.S. interests.

“Some believe that the U.S. should not have a robust military presence in Europe because the Europeans should defend themselves, and that the U.S. should not be providing a security umbrella at the expense of the American taxpayer,” the Heritage Foundation said in a statement. “However, the primary objective of U.S. forces in Europe is to provide a forward based military capability that gives U.S. decision makers timely and flexible military options for defending America and promoting American interests in the broader European region.”

The Washington think tank called on Congress to block funding for the removal of U.S. troops from Europe.

The military has about 34,000 troops in Germany and numerous headquarters that carry out a broad range of missions stretching from NATO’s eastern flank to the Middle East and Africa. It’s also home to a large military hospital near Ramstein Air Base, where troops injured in places like Afghanistan and Africa are brought for trauma care.

“We strongly believe that NATO allies, such as Germany, should do more to contribute to our joint defense efforts,” Thornberry wrote. “At the same time, we also know that the forward stationing of American troops since the end of World War II has helped to prevent another world war and, most importantly, has helped make America safer.”

vandiver.john @stripes.comTwitter: @john_vandiver

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John covers U.S. military activities across Europe and Africa. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, he previously worked for newspapers in New Jersey, North Carolina and Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.
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