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Esper Discusses Rebalancing U.S. Forces to Align With National Defense Strategy

Feb. 12, 2020 | BY David Vergun , DOD News

The Defense Department wants to increase NATO's presence in Iraq to reduce the number of Americans serving there, Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper said.

Service members stand near military vehicles.
Quick Reaction Force
Members of the Task Group Taji X Quick Reaction Force explain their mission and capabilities to the NATO command team on Camp Taji, Iraq, Feb. 7, 2020.
Photo By: Army Spc. Caroline Schofer
VIRIN: 200207-A-GN244-0032

"To the degree that NATO can offset the U.S. presence, that would over time allow us to bring some forces home, which you all should know has been my ambition for some time," the secretary told reporters traveling with him yesterday en route to NATO's defense ministers conference in Brussels.

A reduction of U.S. forces in Iraq would allow DOD to right-size forces in other theaters, the Indo-Pacific area in particular, in accord with the National Defense Strategy, he added.

A Marine stands watch at his post with the sun behind him.
Twilight Watch
A Marine stands watch during the security reinforcement of the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad, Jan. 4, 2020.
Photo By: Marine Corps Sgt. Kyle Talbot
VIRIN: 200104-M-ZX256-1075A

It would also be useful, he said, if NATO can assist friends and partners in the Middle East with air defense capability. Saudi Arabia, in particular, needs additional air defense assets to deter Iranian bad behavior, he noted.

"Last fall after the attacks on the Saudi facilities, I called at least a half dozen of our NATO partners who have NATO-compatible air defense systems to assist us with that, and so I want to continue that dialogue, as well," he said.

Soldiers with guns participate in a field exercise
Poland Training
British soldiers assigned to the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards participate in an exercise in Bemowo Piskie, Poland, Feb. 4, 2020.
Photo By: Army Sgt. Timothy Hamlin
VIRIN: 200204-A-LY216-1021C

Regarding the notification that the Philippines will be ending the agreement that allows U.S. and Philippine troops to train together and conduct counterterrorism missions, Esper said the decision was unfortunate because of "the longstanding relationship we've had with the Philippines for their strategic location, the ties between our peoples, our countries."

A ship sails the sea.
Philippines Mission
The U.S. 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge, sails in the Philippine Sea, Jan. 29, 2020.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chris Krucke
VIRIN: 200129-N-CK669-0019

In Brussels, Esper will meet with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and other officials to discuss NATO readiness, burden sharing, China, the status of NATO in Afghanistan and Iraq and other topics. He will travel next to Munich to attend a security conference, meet with think tank experts, industry leaders and Air Force Gen. Tod D. Wolters, commander of U.S. European Command.