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Marines May Base 300-Man Rotational Force in Norway

Lance Cpl. Joany Echeverry, cannoneer with Combined Arms Company, assists other team members in collecting the ammunition for a live-fire shoot in Rena, Norway, Feb. 23, 2016. (Photo: Lance Cpl. Brianna Gaudi)
Lance Cpl. Joany Echeverry, cannoneer with Combined Arms Company, assists other team members in collecting the ammunition for a live-fire shoot in Rena, Norway, Feb. 23, 2016. (Photo: Lance Cpl. Brianna Gaudi)

As European allies watch Russian aggression in Europe with concern, the Norwegian government is considering allowing a small contingent of U.S. Marines to be based in the country to facilitate better military cooperation and be at the ready in the event of a crisis, Military.com has learned.

The force under consideration is small, about 300 Marines, a defense official said.

Pending the approval of the Norwegian government, the Marines would deploy in a six-month rotation, with additional rotations to follow if approved, the official said.

It's too early to say whether the rotation would be similar to the Marines' crisis response task forces for Africa and the Middle East, or more like the Corps' unit deployment program, which sends Marines forward to Japan for six-month rotations, primarily for training and partnership exercises.

The Norwegian newspaper Adresseavisen reported that the Vaernes air station in Stjordal, Norway, is being considered to house the Marines. The air station also serves as part of Marine Corps Prepositioning Program-Norway, a program that allows the Corps to store thousands of vehicles and other major pieces of gear in temperature-controlled caves, at the ready for joint exercises or a major European combat contingency.

The base, located in central Norway, is about 1,000 miles away from Russia, with which Norway shares a border about 120 miles long at its northeastern limit.

Ahead of an official signal to proceed by the Norwegian government, Maj. Gen. Niel E. Nelson, the commander of Marine Corps Forces Europe and Africa, would confirm only that the possibility is being considered.

"We have a long and close relationship with our friends in the Norwegian Armed Forces, and a limited rotational Marine presence in Norway is one option being considered as a further development of this relationship," Nelson told Military.com in a statement. "However, at this time, it would be premature to discuss possible implementation of such an initiative before the appropriate Norwegian political processes are completed."

The proposition must be approved by the Norwegian parliament, and it's not clear when that will take place, the official said. But local reports indicated the first rotation of troops could arrive as soon as January if the proposition is ratified.

The Norwegian Ministry of Defense has expressed support for the arrangement.

"Assessments have taken place within the military to look at the options for additional training, storage and this kind of thing," Norwegian Defense Ministry spokeswoman Ann Kristin Salbuvik said Oct. 10, according to a report from international outlet PressTV.com.

This potential move is the latest in a series designed to improve collaboration with European allies for greater regional security. Last year, the Corps rolled out the Allied Maritime Basing Initiative, a strategy that placed a small number of American troops aboard French, Dutch and Spanish ships in a move designed to better enable Marines to respond to crises and reassure partners in the face of Russian hostility in Eastern Europe.

In July, Army officials revealed plans to base a division headquarters and artillery brigade in Europe on a rotational basis in coming years. That would be in addition to an already-approved armor brigade that will move more than 42,000 additional soldiers into Europe by early next year. These plans fall under what the Pentagon is calling the "European Reassurance Initiative," begun in 2014 as Russian forces entered Ukraine, then annexed the Crimean peninsula.

The Marine Corps already operates the Black Sea Rotational Force, a six-month deployment of about 500 Marines that conducts partner exercises with some 20 Eastern European countries to promote regional stability. That deployment rotation is expected to continue independent of plans to rotate troops through Norway, the official said.

Earlier this year, nearly 2,000 Marines traveled to Trondheim, Norway, to participate in the annual exercise Cold Response, including 16,000 troops from 15 countries -- the largest multinational exercise in the country in more than 20 years.

Speaking at a Washington, D.C., event in March, Marine Commandant Gen. Robert Neller made clear that this show of strength was not coincidental.

"We were working to repopulate our [pre-positioning equipment] in the caves, and the Norwegians were happy to see us, and I'm sure our Russian friends were paying attention," he said of the exercise. "Mr. Putin has done us a great favor."

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at@HopeSeck.

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