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Hopeful for more troops, US scouts basing options in Germany

The number of US troops in Germany has steadily declined in the decades following the Cold War. New interest in old military bases in Lower Saxony suggests that trend might change.

Grafenwöhr / US-Armee / Militär / USA (dapd)

The US Army is scouting new basing options in northern Germany, a sign that concerns over Russia and new funding under the Trump administration could bring more American troops to Europe.

The US Army has scouted two sites in northern Germany for potentially basing new American troops in Europe, according to its command in Wiesbaden.

Survey teams recently visited facilities at Bad Fallingbostel and Bergen, two longtime military communities in Lower Saxony that border a large NATO training area. Local news reports placed the number of potential soldiers at 4,000—roughly the size of a combat brigade.

US Army Europe, the command responsible for American soldiers on the continent, released a statement saying the surveys were meant to provide options should the American and German governments approve a force increase in the future. 

"At this time no decisions have been made; we are engaged in prudent planning only," the statement said.  

Concerns over Russia 

German parliamentarian Henning Otte (CDU) told local newspaper Cellesche-Zeitung that he was encouraging the Army to consider the region, which has recently seen a buildup of Bundeswehr tank forces.

Infografik Karte US-Militärbasen Deutschland ENG

The US Army is scouting two sites in northern Germany for potentially basing new American troops in Europe. The bases would mark a geographic shift for the US military, which is largely based in the country's south.

Citing concerns over Russia, American commanders have recently pushed to increase the number of permanently stationed forces in Europe. Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of all American forces in Europe, told Congress last year that he believed a heavy armor brigade should be stationed on the continent.

Two American brigades are permanently stationed in Europe at the moment—a mechanized infantry unit based in southern Germany and an airborne infantry brigade with units in Italy and Germany. Four brigades were stationed in Europe as recently as five years ago, before two were removed as part of US shift in focus to Asia.

A US Army convoy travels from Estonia to Vilseck, Germany on March 21, 2015. The Army recently surveyed two sites in northern Germany for the potential basing of new troops in Europe.

A US Army convoy travels from Estonia to Vilseck, Germany on March 21, 2015. The Army recently surveyed two sites in northern Germany for the potential basing of new troops in Europe.

While the US and NATO allies have increased the number of rotational forces in Eastern Europe in recent years, the number of permanently stationed forces has steadily fallen since the end of the Cold War, from more than 300,000 in the late 1980s to roughly 62,000 today.

Eastern European countries, including Poland, have pushed for permanent troops in their territory, but Western allies, including Germany, have resisted, citing the 1997 NATO Founding Act, an agreement with Russia that they argue limits permanent deployments in former Warsaw Pact nations.

Permanent stationing means soldiers would spend years instead of months training in the same terrain, with the same allied units from the Bundeswehr and other NATO-allied militaries. Soldiers would almost certainly be accompanied by their families, bringing an economic lift to the area.

Shift from downward trend

The move would be a significant departure from the American trend of downsizing in Europe in recent decades. American bases once dotted the former West German landscape, in particular in the south. 

A push by the Trump administration to raise defense spending by 10 percent—roughly $54 billion—is giving new hope to US military commanders in pursuit of more manpower, firepower and equipment in their theaters. 

NATO wants to deter Russia by supporting allies and bolstering its presence in the east, where Russian military activity has picked up in recent years. Positioning an American unit in northern Germany would have an added logistics benefit for the alliance, placing the Army between the major port of Bremerhaven and the Baltic countries bordering Russia. Logistics movements have been a headache during NATO training exercises focused on moving equipment rapidly to the east.

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The base would also appear to be one of the few American units in the former British zone of postwar Germany. The Bergen-Hohne NATO training area, a 280-square-kilometer swath of training land between Bad Fallingbostel and Bergen, is the largest military training ground in Germany. The Bundeswehr stationed a tank batallion with roughly 1,000 soldiers in nearby Bergen last year.

After British troops left the region in 2015, the camp at Bad Fallingbostel was briefly turned into refugee housing.

The region is also home to several notorious Nazi-era sites, including former POW camps, or Stalags, in the Bad Fallingbostel area and the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where Anne Frank was killed during the Holocaust.  

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