BERLIN (Reuters) - The U.S. military will station about 1,500 additional soldiers in Germany by September 2020, adding to more than 33,000 American troops already in the country in a move that could trigger fresh tensions with Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested last month that NATO forces in eastern Europe posed a threat to Russia, a charge firmly rejected by NATO officials.
The U.S. Army's European headquarters in Wiesbaden, Germany, said the new forces would be permanently stationed in Germany as "a display of our continued commitment to NATO and our collective resolve to support European security."
Sharp criticism of the NATO alliance by U.S. President Donald Trump had triggered fears that Washington could reduce defence spending in Europe and reduce its presence.
"The addition of these forces increases U.S Army readiness in Europe and ensures we are better able to respond to any crisis," it said. The increased troop levels will still be far below those seen during the Cold War.
The troop increase was mandated by 2017 U.S. legislation that called for an increase in U.S. Army troop levels, with a significant portion of the increase to come in Europe.
The U.S. Army said it would begin activating new units at several bases in Germany this year, including a field artillery brigade headquarters, two multiple launch rocket system battalions, and a short-range air defence battalion.
Richard Grenell, the U.S. ambassador in Germany, said the decision underscored Washington's commitment to strengthening he transatlantic alliance, while planned military spending increases had improved security.
German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen, a conservative who is battling the Social Democrat coalition partners to back a boost in German military spending, welcomed the decision.
"The U.S. decision to increase the military presence here in Germany is a welcome sign of the vitality of transatlantic relationship and a commitment to our joint security," she said.
(Reporting by Sabine Siebold; Writing by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)