It's official: A company-sized element of Marines is deploying to Norway in January.
The Norwegian government announced in a news release Monday that it had approved a "limited rotational force presence" of about 330 Marines, to be based in Vaernes, near where the Marine Corps has thousands of vehicles and other key pieces of gear stored year-round in climate-controlled caves.
The Marines will deploy for six months, with follow-on rotations to be determined, in a move designed to provide support and collaboration to NATO allies and a ready presence in case of crisis.
"The United States is a long-term and close ally to Norway," Norwegian Defence Minister Ine Eriksen Soreide said in a statement. "US participation in military exercises and training in Norway is one element in this long-standing and close security policy relationship. We receive positive feedback from Allies who find Norwegian cold-weather conditions ideal for training and exercises. I am pleased to welcome additional American troops to train in our superb conditions."
Military.com was first to report earlier this month that the Marine Corps was entertaining the possibility of basing troops in Norway. Vaernes, in central Norway, is about 1,000 miles from the 120-mile border the country shares with Russia to its north.
In a statement released to Military.com, the commander of Marine Corps Forces Europe and Africa hailed the decision to allow a Marine presence in Norway.
"The Norwegian government's approval of a rotational presence of Marines is a tremendous opportunity to enhance training and interoperability between Norway and the U.S. Marine Corps,” Maj. Gen. Niel Nelson said. “Their decision is certain to galvanize our relationship with the Norwegian Armed Forces and improve our collective capabilities."
Eriksen Soreide said a deployed Marine company in Norway would provide new opportunities for bilateral exercises and military collaboration, both at Vaernes and at other locations within the country. The rotation, she said, would also allow the Marine Corps to further develop its prepositioning program. Though it's not clear what current plans are, having a Marine presence in country would enable the troops to perform regular maintenance on stored gear and use it for training and exercises.
The new basing agreement builds on a 10-year-old memorandum of understanding between Norway and the U.S., Eriksen Soreide said. The agreement's renewal in 2006 allowed for the possibility of a significant increase in training and U.S. exercises in Norway, she added.
The first deployment of Marines will be considered a trial period, Eriksen Soreide said. Following that, the Norwegian government will determine how to proceed with the possibility of a rotational presence beyond 2017.
"This US initiative is welcome and also fits well within ongoing processes in NATO to increase exercises, training and interoperability within the Alliance," she said.
The Marine unit that will deploy to Norway has not yet been announced, but it will likely include infantry troops as well as logisticians and other enablers, a U.S. defense official said.
The Corps plans to continue its deployment of the Black Sea Rotational Force, a six-month deployment to countries in Eastern Europe that highlights partnership exercises to promote regional stability and allied relationships.