‘Lipstick on a Pig:’ Plan to Pull US Troops from Germany Under Fire on Capitol Hill

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FILE - In this April 26, 2017, file photo House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)
FILE - In this April 26, 2017, file photo House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

The top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee this week expressed strong distaste for the Pentagon's plan to withdraw thousands of U.S. troops from Germany in keeping with the president’s order.

Committee ranking member Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, who is retiring this year, made the charge during a Wednesday hearing at which Pentagon officials were unable to give details on where many of the 11,900 troops to be withdrawn would go, how it would affect military families and how much it would cost.

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Thornberry said that acting Pentagon policy chief James Anderson and Air Force Lt. Gen. David Allvin, director of strategy and plans for the Pentagon's Joint Staff, were put in the difficult position of defending an ill-considered withdrawal order from Trump in June.

The president was likely sold on the Germany withdrawal by "a couple of staffers in the White House [who] clearly hadn't thought through the consequences," Thornberry said.

The result is that Defense Secretary Mark Esper "and the folks at the Pentagon are trying to put lipstick on the pig or make lemons out of lemonade," he added.

Other committee members were equally critical in assessing the withdrawal plan and its potential impact on the NATO alliance and the National Defense Strategy.

"From a layperson's point of view, it looks like we've reduced our troop presence in Europe at a time that Russia is actually becoming more of a threat," Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Ala., told Anderson and Allvin. "It looks like we're pulling back, and I think that bothers a lot of us."

Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., the committee's chairman, said he is frustrated by what he called the witnesses' inability to answer basic questions on the implementation of the plan.

"The level of detail that we're getting here is just not acceptable," he said. "What the hell is going on, so we can exercise our oversight?"

Smith and others on the panel said the withdrawal plan appears to have been put in place without consulting NATO alliance partners.

The failure to consult "plays right into Russia's hands," Smith said. "They want to see us divided. We should not play into their hands."

The White House announced in June that 9,500 U.S. troops would be pulled out of Germany. In July, Esper outlined a plan for withdrawal that called for 11,900 troops to be withdrawn, reducing troop levels in Germany to about 24,000.

Esper said about half of the U.S. troops to be withdrawn would return to the U.S., while others would remain in other countries in Europe.

Anderson said he couldn't predict where in the U.S. the returning troops might go, but said some would eventually be in units that would be on call for rotations back to Europe. Others could be assigned to bolster U.S. forces in the Indo-Pacific, he said.

"As with any major plan, it is subject to revisions and modifications going forward," Anderson said when pressed for details, adding that the timeline for the troop withdrawals and redeployments is yet to be determined.

Allvin said the strategy is to use "dynamic force employment" through rotations to Europe to lend unpredictability to efforts to deter Russia and "rapidly respond to emergent threats."

However, neither Anderson nor Allvin could answer many of the specific questions put to them by committee members from both sides of the aisle.

Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., asked Allvin whether the air hub at Spangdahlem, Germany, might be shut down as troops are withdrawn. Allvin said he didn't think so, but couldn't give a definitive answer.

Rep. Gil Cisneros, D-Calif., pressed Allvin and Anderson for any details they could provide for the military families affected by the withdrawals, and when and where they might go.

Allvin said no PCS moves for families in Germany are planned in the near term. He added that efforts are underway to give the families some predictability on moves "so they aren't sort of whiplashing around" while awaiting orders.

The hearing came a day before the Senate confirmed Allvin as the next Air Force vice chief of staff and his promotion to four-star rank.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

Related: AFRICOM Headquarters Could Move to US as Troops Pull Out of Germany

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