July 29 (UPI) -- Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Wednesday the Pentagon will withdraw almost 12,000 troops from Germany, a move that has been condemned by both Democrats and Republicans.
Esper said about half of the 11,900 troops will be placed in other NATO countries and the rest will return to the United States. Many of the units will rotate back to Europe in the future.
"Our aim is to implement these moves as expeditiously as possible... particularly being fair to and taking care of our service members and their families," Esper said in a statement. "We could see some moves begin within weeks; others will take longer."
"The repositioning of our forces in Europe constitutes a major strategic and positive shift."
President Donald Trump defended the decision by saying Germany "is delinquent" in paying their NATO fees.
"The United States has been taken advantage of on trade and on military and on everything else for many years, and I'm here and I've been straightening it out," the president told reporters the South Lawn at the White House.
Trump said Germany was paying less than 2% of its GDP on defense.
"We don't want to be the suckers anymore," he said.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the decision "underlines" U.S. commitment to NATO and European Security and that Esper closely consulted with all NATO allies prior to Wednesday's announcement.
"Peace and security in Europe is important for the security and prosperity of North America, and as we face a more unpredictable world, we are stronger and safer when we stand together," he said in a statement.
Last month, the Trump administration complained that the government was paying too much to put troops in Europe and European nations aren't paying enough for their own defense.
Twenty-two Republican members of the House armed services committee signed an open letter last month opposing the withdrawal.
"NATO allies, such as Germany, should do more to contribute to our joint defense efforts," the letter said. "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."
"[T]he overall limit on troops would prevent us from conducting the exercises that are necessary for the training and readiness of our forces and those of our allies."
On Wednesday, Rep, Eliot L. Engel, the Democratic chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, described the redeployment of troops as a "body blow" dealt to Germany and NATO and Trump as "Russia's greatest asset" in its efforts to weaken the coalition forces.
"The U.S. presence in Germany is a pillar of security in Europe and serves as a critical launch platform for American operations in the Middle East, Africa and all around the world," Engel said in a statement, stating it will embolden Russian President Vladimir Putin while the United States' partners will feel betrayed.
"The world will know that American commitments aren't worth the paper they're written on," he said.
"It's a slap in the face at a friend and ally when we should instead be drawing closer in our mutual commitment to deter Russian and Chinese aggression," he said. "The move may temporarily play well in domestic politics, but its consequences will be lasting and harmful to American interests."