US Spec Ops Head East to Train With Allies

American and Estonian special operations forces stand in formation during the opening ceremony of Spring Storm 2014 in Amari, Estonia, on Tuesday (Timothy Clegg/Courtesy U.S. Army)

STUTTGART, Germany -- U.S. special operations forces are increasing their presence in the Baltics and eastern Europe with a continuous cycle of exercises planned as part of a new effort to maintain a "persistent presence" of elite U.S. troops in a region rattled by Russia's recent actions in Ukraine.

Troops assigned to Special Operations Command Europe launched their "Exercise Spring Storm" in Estonia on Tuesday, which will be the first in a series of multinational and bilateral drills aimed at maintaining a constant presence of Green Berets and other operators in the region, the command said.

"We've always done this kind of training, but what is new is this is going to be a persistent presence," said Lt. Col. Nick Sternbeg, spokesman for SOCEUR. "We've got a plan and we're pushing it forward."

In addition to long-standing annual exercises, SOCEUR has added a number of new training programs over the next two months in five counties across the Baltics and eastern Europe. Follow-on missions are also being planned to ensure an ongoing presence of special operators, according to the command.

The so-called Joint Combined Exchange Training events will involve small teams of operators, who work on a range of combat tactics on 30-day rotations. The troops, including Green Berets, SEALS and Air Force operators, will be pulled from SOCEUR headquarters in Stuttgart and across the SOF community to maintain a constant rotational presence.

Such exercises ensure U.S. special operations units can fight effectively alongside their eastern European counterparts, some of which border Ukraine, said SOCEUR commander, Air Force Maj. Gen Marshall B. Webb.

"The numerous small unit engagements conducted with our partners each year inevitably lead to stronger relationships and more robust operational capabilities," Webb said in a news release. "An important byproduct of these relationships is that we reassure our partners and allies of U.S. support to deter aggression and promote regional stability."

The exercises are also a part of a wider NATO effort to preserve allied forces' capability to fight together after combat troops leave Afghanistan at the end of the year. Analysts say that as a result of the war, the level of interoperability within the 28-nation alliance is now higher than at any other time in its 65-year history.

In addition to more small-unit missions in eastern Europe, annual training events in the region are also moving forward.

After exercises in Estonia, SOCEUR will conduct Flaming Sword 14 in Lithuania later this month, followed by an annual national-level defense exercise in Latvia.

"These training engagements will provide U.S. Special Operations forces with valuable opportunities to hone their language skills, gain vital understanding of the environment and culture in which their partners operate, and sharpen their tactical skills," SOCEUR said in a news release. "This is standard training for special operations units and is conducted at the request of the partner nation."

Special Operations Command Europe falls under the U.S. European Command and is responsible for maintaining relationship with elite allied units across the Continent.

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