Plans involving the relocation of large numbers of troops are usually closely coordinated with the Pentagon to achieve an achievable goal. This time, a special order to withdraw nearly 10,000 troops from Germany came from the White House, despite Pentagon concerns that it would compromise America’s U.S. defense against Russia.
“Their inventory is very large at the moment,” one administrative officer told CNN.
Since resigning from the DNI last month, Grenell has taken on several new jobs inside and outside the administration, including a part-time job at the National Security Council working under O’Brien. Going back to his time as American ambassador to Germany, Grenell is the driving force pulling troops there.
Since Grenell returned to the White House last year, there is a widespread belief among current national security officials that he and O’Brien worked to isolate Esper, according to three sources familiar with internal dynamics. Although others believe Esper’s influence has largely declined because he refused to engage in politics.
On Thursday, Grenell retaliated by realizing that he and O’Brien were actively trying to bypass Esper, whom Grenell says was present during a months-long debate over the withdrawal of troops from Germany.
“The president wanted a thoughtful process from the DoD,” Grenell told CNN. “Back then, the whole debate was about how much to adjust for some (troops) to go to Poland, and how much to bring home.”
As talks progressed, there was a key disagreement over how many of the approximately 34,500 U.S. troops must withdraw. Although Pentagon officials were willing to adjust the level of troops in Germany if it did not harm the U.S. deterrence from Russia, the president publicly described the withdrawal he ordered as retaliation against Germany, which he claims does not contribute to its fair share of NATO funding. And.
Esper traveled to NATO on Wednesday, where the topic of the potential withdrawal of US forces from Europe will inevitably be raised.
“Secretary Esper met with President Trump on Wednesday to discuss our presence in Europe,” Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said. “The secretary will brief the president at the White House on Monday on options for our forced detention in Germany.”
Grenell and O’Brien
Several sources have said that O’Brien is trying to position himself as the next Secretary of Defense if Trump wins a second term, and that Grenell is running for next secretary of state – something he has either refused or refused to acknowledge. in Florida, Reverend Matt Gaetz, Trump’s ally, asked Grenell if he would serve as secretary of state in another Trump administration. Grenell replied, “I don’t think I could answer that.”
O’Brien and Grenell have a close relationship and have known each other since the mid-2000s, when they both worked at the United Nations during the George W. Bush administration, according to a source familiar with their relationship.
O’Brien saw Grenel as a loyal soldier to be sent to the DNI, and he also thought that naming Grenell, a very controversial figure, even among conservatives, could pave the way for a quick confirmation of who will be nominated, they told you. People.
Although the couple managed to gain favor with Trump, their maneuver angered some key allies of the president, including Republican Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Jim Inhofe, who says O’Brien failed to give him a head. on a plan to remove American troops from Germany.
“It came from O’Brien. He signed it. That’s what I understand,” the Oklahoma Republican told reporters Wednesday.
“I’m the last one to find out about it,” he added. “I should have been first.”
Management sources told CNN that O’Brien was prompted by the president’s increasingly negative view of Esper.
For months now, Trump and O’Brien have been losing faith in Esper, noting his tendency to avoid providing full defense to the president or his policies, senior administration officials told CNN earlier.
Trump has privately expressed frustration with Esper, including giving up on him over a long weekend at Camp David, according to several sources.
O’Brien spoke with the president about Esper’s television remarks, which the White House repeatedly considered problematic or uninformed. In at least one case, O’Brien presented the president with prints comparing his public remarks on a subject with those of Esper to highlight the contrast.
Proximity also played a role in the division, a source close to O’Brien noted. With an office in the West Wing, O’Brien will be in the Oval Office for just a minute of notice, while the time Esper is due to travel from the Pentagon after Trump called him has occasionally irritated the impatient president, the source added.
Trump doesn’t seem to have a problem with O’Brien stepping on Esper’s fingers, he told reporters at the White House on Monday that he intended to follow his National Security Adviser’s recommendation to relocate U.S. troops stationed in Germany.
Trump reiterated his stance during a news conference in the rose garden on Wednesday with Polish President Andrzej Duda. “We will probably move them from Germany to Poland,” Trump said, adding that he wants to bring U.S. troops there to 25,000. “Some are coming home, and some will go to other places, and Poland would be one of those places.”
Although Duda advocated relocating troops to Poland, he made clear his opposition to reducing the total number of U.S. forces in Europe, saying it would be “very detrimental to European security.”
Deeper tensions with the Pentagon
Trump’s frustration with Esper points to the wider tension between the president and military leaders at the Pentagon.
Milley was so uncertain about his future that he privately advised close colleagues, including several retired senior generals.
Tensions over the response to the protests have escalated into a move to withdraw troops from Germany, according to multiple current and former officials.
While in the past defense officials have tended to relocate some forces from Germany, several U.S. and NATO officials told CNN earlier this month that the size and timing of the cuts were unexpected.
Discussions on removing troops from Germany began early last fall, an administration official said. When the idea was launched, “middle-level” officials at the Ministry of Defense withdrew, demanding an increase in the number of troops instead, the person said.
In December, top U.S. officials attending a NATO summit in London chose to hold discussions, and Grenell raised the issue with Esper, stressing the president’s interest in withdrawing troops, the person said.
The Pentagon said it was working on options “in line with the president’s directive” to significantly reduce troop numbers in Germany, but defense officials were protected by Trump’s initial request and were largely excluded from the decision-making process, sources said.
Now Esper has a duty to do so, despite believing that Trump’s request is logistically impossible and that NATO allies are privately opposed.
“Mark Esper is well aware of the physics of the problem” of such a withdrawal, one official said.
O’Brien, on the other hand, defends the move.
If successful, the move could mean a signature victory for O’Brien, but several GOP lawmakers are unhappy about it. A group of Republicans, led by Ambassador Michael McCaule, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rev. Adam Kinzinger, a veteran of the Air Force, in a letter this week urged Trump not to reduce troop numbers in Germany, saying the move would negatively affect NATO -this ability to deter Russian aggression.
More than 20 Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee, including panel chairman Mac Thornberry, reiterated this in a special letter earlier this month asking the White House to reconsider its plan.
Two congressional aides familiar with the deal told CNN they did not expect the letters to have much success in persuading Trump to change direction unless Esper or Milley could intervene in some way.
O’Brien, not Trump, is to blame for Inhofe, who remains a powerful ally of Trump on Capitol Hill. “He has a passionate love for our troops and would not do anything that would impose unbearable difficulties on us,” Inhofe told the president on Wednesday.
“I just know that wouldn’t be what he’d run, because he knows him well.”
CNN’s Kylie Atwood and Ryan Browne contributed to this report.