Marine Rotational Force-Europe (MRF-E) / Vaernes Garrison
Since January 2017, approximately 330 Marines have been stationed at Vaernes Air Station, Norway, on a rotational basis. They continued to rotate beyond 2017, with two rotations per year. Norway's Minister of Defence announced 21 June 2017 that U.S. Marines will continue rotational training and exercises in Norway through 2018. “Our Marines in Norway are demonstrating a high level of cooperation with our Allies,” said Maj. Gen. Niel E. Nelson, commander of U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe & Africa. “The more we train together alongside one another the stronger our Alliance becomes.” The commander of Marines in Europe said the decision to extend the presence of the Marine rotational force in Norway is a clear sign of the U.S. and Norwegian commitment to NATO and the strong partnership between our two countries on defense and security.
Approximately 300 Marines from units all across II Marine Expeditionary Force arrived at Vaernes Air Station, Norway, from Camp Lejeune, N.C., on Oct. 3, 2018, in order to participate in Exercise Trident Juncture 2018. Trident Juncture 18 enhances the U.S. and NATO Allies' abilities to work together collectively to conduct military operations under challenging conditions.
Norway asked the United States to more than double the number of U.S. Marines stationed in the country in a move that could raise tensions with neighboring Russia, top ministers said. The move announced by Oslo's foreign and defense ministers on 12 June 2018 comes amid increasing wariness among nations bordering Russia after Moscow's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula in 2014. Nine nations along NATO's eastern flank last week called for an increased presence by the military alliance in their region amid concerns about Russian aggression.
Some 330 U.S. Marines were scheduled to leave Norway at the end of 2018 after an initial contingent arrived in January 2017 to train for fighting in winter conditions. They were the first foreign troops to be stationed in Norway, a member of NATO, since World War II. The initial decision to welcome the Marines last year irked Russia, with Moscow warning that it would worsen bilateral relations with Oslo and escalate tensions on NATO's northern flank.
Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soereide told reporters on 12 June 2017 that the decision to increase the U.S. presence has broad support in parliament and does not constitute the establishment of a permanent U.S. base in Norway. Oslo asked Washington to send 700 Marines starting in 2018, with the additional troops to be based closer to the border with Russia in the Inner Troms region in the Norwegian Arctic, about 420 kilometers from Russia, rather than in central Norway. "There will still be a respectful distance with the Russian border," Soereide said. "We can't see any serious reason why Russia should react, even if we expect it will again this time since it always does about the allied exercises and training."
To ease Moscow's concerns, before becoming a founder member of NATO in 1949, Oslo said it would not station foreign troops on its soil unless it was under threat of attack. The ministers said Norway still abides by that commitment and claimed that the new U.S. troop presence would be "rotational," not permanent. The new troops will be rotated in for five-year periods, they said, while the posting of U.S. troops in Norway since last year was only for six-month intervals that were extended repeatedly.
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