No Additional Marines Bound for Norway as Cold-Weather Training Advances

A U.S. Marine with Marine Rotational Force-Europe 19.2, Marine Forces Europe and Africa, uses ski poles to climb out of water during an ice-breaking drill in Setermoen, Norway, on May 4, 2019. The ice-breaking drills tested the Marines’ abilities to get out if they fall in freezing water, ultimately improving the Marine Corps’ cold-weather proficiencies. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Williams Quinteros)
A U.S. Marine with Marine Rotational Force-Europe 19.2, Marine Forces Europe and Africa, uses ski poles to climb out of water during an ice-breaking drill in Setermoen, Norway, on May 4, 2019. The ice-breaking drills tested the Marines’ abilities to get out if they fall in freezing water, ultimately improving the Marine Corps’ cold-weather proficiencies. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Williams Quinteros)

NORWAY -- The government of Norway has no immediate plans to call for more U.S. Marines to train alongside its troops in the high north after asking for an increase last year, according to officials in the Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The goal is for the Marines to become proficient in cold-weather skills necessary to survive harsh climates, a mission pivot after years of desert operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The system now works," said an MoD official who spoke on condition of anonymity. "There are no plans to ask for an increase at this time, but perhaps there [will be] more [Marines] when rotational exercises occur."

Military.com spoke with officials here as part of a fact-finding trip organized by the Atlantic Council, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, through a partnership with the Norwegian Ministry of Defense. The group traveled to Oslo, Bergen and Stavanger to speak with organizations and government operations officials May 6-10.

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Norway is weighing options for creating more prepositioning sites to store arms, weapons and gear in climate-controlled caves.

"We haven't invested in survivability. Our readiness has dwindled. Our highest priority is repletion," the MoD official said last week, referring to storing the food, water and gear citizens would need to survive an attack.

After Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, an action Norway denounced, Norwegian officials sought stronger ties with the U.S.

About 300 U.S. Marines have been rotating through Norway every six months since January 2017. The rotations marked the first time foreign troops had been based in the country since World War II, according to Reuters.

Last year, Norway called for increasing the rotation to 700 Marines for the next five years. The contingent has deployed to Vaernes in central Norway and further north at Setermoen, roughly 300 miles from Russia's border.

The Russian embassy criticized the plan to double the size of the rotation, warning it could lead to "rising tensions and trigger an arms race, destabilizing the situation in northern Europe."

Officials at Norway's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the force being rotational is key to keeping relations on an even keel between the NATO member and neighboring Russia.

"We're not in violation [of any treaty because] there's no physical base there. … There's not a McDonald's; there's no permanent [livelihood]," an MFA official said.

Last October, Marines joined with 50,000 U.S. and NATO forces in the north for the largest iteration of Exercise Trident Juncture since 1991.

During the trip last week, senior officers with the Royal Norwegian Navy said members of the Marines' 1st and 2nd Reconnaissance Battalions have begun training with the country's coastal rangers to familiarize themselves with seaside terrain, and to be the "eyes and ears for friendly maritime forces."

The consensus here is that U.S. troops still have quite a bit to learn from Norwegians -- not the other way around. That is also true, officials said, for other partner nations not accustomed to Arctic warfare.

"We have a small, but proficient armed forces," said an MoD official, who was also previously a member of the naval special warfare unit of the Norwegian Special Operations Command.

"The nature [in Norway] makes you … more exposed to being wet and miserable all the time," the ex-special operator said. "So we have the climate, the terrain, and it's something new to them. It's about new techniques and procedures all the time.

"If you fail here, you die," he said.

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U.S. Marines conduct ice-breaking drills in Setermoen, Norway, May 4, 2019.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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