The United States is preparing to pull more troops from Germany, days after President Donald Trump criticized the country for being "delinquent" on defense spending.
U.S. Africa Command confirmed Friday it is in the early stages of moving its headquarters from the city of Stuttgart, where it has been located since the command was first stood up in 2008.
"U.S. Africa Command has been told to plan to move," its commander, Gen. Stephen Townsend, said in a statement. "While it will likely take several months to develop options, consider locations, and come to a decision, the command has started the process."
U.S. military officials have been looking for months at reducing the approximately 6,000 troops stationed in Africa.
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And top U.S. defense officials warned earlier this week that moving the location of AFRICOM headquarters, along with U.S. Special Operations Command Africa, was under consideration during a Wednesday news conference about the redeployment of almost 12,000 U.S. troops from Germany.
That plan already calls for U.S. European Command (EUCOM) headquarters, along with U.S. Special Operations Command Europe, to relocate headquarters, also in the German city of Stuttgart, to Belgium.
Currently, AFRICOM has about 1,200 military and civilians assigned to its headquarters in Stuttgart. But officials said the move should not impact U.S. operations in Africa.
"It is important our African partners understand our commitment to them remains strong," Townsend said in Friday's statement, adding his command "will continue to work with our African and other partners to address mutual interests."
While a new site for the command headquarters has not yet been chosen, an AFRICOM official told VOA that planners will be looking first to other European countries, and then at moving the command to the U.S.
"The team will look at available infrastructure, housing, access to transportation, adequate medical care, and a range of other consideration factors," said AFRICOM spokesman Col. Chris Karns.
"It will be a deliberate and orderly approach and process," he added, noting, "It was important to let partners as well as personnel and families know that planning is under way."
Africa itself, where the U.S. has long tried to maintain a small military footprint, is not under consideration, officials said.
Just how much moving AFRICOM's headquarters from Stuttgart will cost, and how much money could be saved by using another location, has yet to be determined.
Reaction to changes
While U.S. military officials argue the changes are strategically necessary and will give them more flexibility, German officials have expressed disappointment at the U.S. decision to pull some 12,000 troops from the country.
"Instead of strengthening NATO, the troop withdrawal will weaken the alliance," Norbert Roettgen, a senior ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the chairman of the German parliament's foreign affairs committee, told the Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper.
U.S. lawmakers, including some Republicans who often side with Trump, have also raised concerns about the changes, though Sen. Jim Inhofe, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has called the moves "sound."
Trump defended the decision to pull troops out of Germany earlier this week, suggesting the U.S. could move troops based with other NATO allies if those countries do not increase defense spending.
"We don't want to be the suckers anymore," he told reporters Wednesday.
But some analysts have raised concerns that moving troops and critical commands from Germany will hurt overall operations.
"We get huge benefits from our U.S. military posture in Germany," said Bradley Bowman, a former adviser to members of the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees.
"We are able to project U.S. military power into North Africa and the Middle East much more effectively because of our military posture in Germany," said Bowman, now with the Washington-based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.