Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday said that U.S. officials are aware of “every single threat” to American soldiers in Afghanistan, and that Trump administration officials have directly discussed with senior Russian counterparts on the safety of American soldiers fighting there.
In occasionally sharp exchanges before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mr. Pompeo revealed the discussions with Moscow, defended President Trump’s decision to draw down U.S. forces in Germany, and insisted the diplomatic “tide is turning” against China in large part because of the Trump administration’s hard line against Beijing.
Mr. Trump this week revealed he did not raise the issue of “bounties” paid for killing U.S. troops in Afghanistan with Russian President Vladimir Putin in a recent phone call, but Mr. Pompeo said Moscow had gotten the message about American concern.
“Any time there was a tactical threat on the lives or the health or the safety and security or our assets in place, we have raised this with our Russian counterparts not only at my level, but Ambassador [John] Sullivan and every one of our team that interacts with the Russians, we’ve made very clear our expectations.”
Four U.S. soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan this year, while 19 were killed last year, but Mr. Trump and his aides say the U.S. intelligence community was divided and the information on supposed bounties to the Taliban was sketchy.
Mr. Pompeo also told the committee that he had spoken with his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, about “all of the issues that put American issues at risk,” but stopped short of confirming that he had discussed the specific issue of Russian bounties with his counterpart.
The secretary was also grilled by lawmakers of both parties about a plan rolled out by the Pentagon on Tuesday to slash the number of U.S. troops stationed in Germany by nearly 12,000. More than half are expected to return to the U.S., while the rest will remain in Europe. Defense Department officials on Wednesday said the overhaul is part of an overall rethinking of U.S. troop deployments abroad, but Mr. Trump this week also called it punishment for what he said was Berlin’s failure to spend more on NATO’s collective defense.
Several senators sharply criticized the drawdown, saying it amounted to a rebuke of a close ally that could weaken European and NATO’s deterrence of Russian aggression.
“I can’t imagine, at a time when we need to be drawing in our friends and allies so that we can collectively confront China, that we want to insult them,” he told Mr. Pompeo.
Mr. Pompeo said that Russia could likely see the U.S. move as aggressive, noting that many of the U.S. troops in Germany will be moving farther east and will be “deployed closer to the Russian border.”
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire Democrat and member of both the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committee, said the administration was failing to take into account the fallout from “diplomatically alienating Germany.”
But Sen. Rob Portman said the Pentagon’s moves could be a “good idea” so long as a sufficient number remain posted in Europe.
“I agree that Germany is not the right place for the number of troops that we have,” he said, “it should be closer to where the action is and, frankly, the countries at most risk right now.”
Mr. Pompeo also told lawmakers the administration remains strongly opposed to the Nord Stream natural gas pipeline project that will link Russian suppliers directly to Germany, and is ready to sanction companies working to complete the pipeline.
Mr. Pompeo had not appeared before the committee in over a year, and Democrats had stored up a number of grievances for the occasion, from the administration’s overall foreign policy to Mr. Pompeo’s role in the events that got President Trump impeached to the secretary’s role in the May dismissal of the State Department’s inspector general.
“Under your watch, the United States has faced setback after setback on the world stage, ceding leverage and influence to our stated adversaries,” said New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, the committee’s ranking Democrat.
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