Defense Minister welcomes US troop surge

Latvian Defense Minister Raimonds Bergmanis on Wednesday said he was delighted with an announcement that the United States is to increase its troop presence in Eastern Europe to the tune of one brigade from February 2017.

The announcement came from the US' European command, which said:

"As part of the United States commitment to increased assurance and deterrence, U.S. Army Europe (USAREUR) will begin receiving continuous troop rotations of U.S.-based armored brigade combat teams (ABCT) to the European theater in February 2017, bringing the total Army presence in Europe up to three fully-manned Army brigades."

The US' highest-ranking officer in Europe, General Philip Breedlove, who is currently in Riga for talks with commanders on the defense of the Baltic Sea area, was quoted as saying:

"This is a big step in enhancing the Army’s rotational presence and increasing their combat equipment in Europe. This Army implementation plan continues to demonstrate our strong and balanced approach to reassuring our NATO Allies and Partners in the wake of an aggressive Russia in Eastern Europe and elsewhere. This means our Allies and Partners will see more capability - they will see a more frequent presence of an armored brigade with more modernized equipment in their countries."

However, most of the heavy equipment will be stored in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, not the Baltic states.

By the end of 2017, there will be a continuous presence of three fully equipped Army Brigade Combat Teams (one Armored, one Airborne, one Stryker) in Eastern Europe.

A release from the Defense Ministry quoted Bergmanis saying:

"This is confirmation of US President Barack Obama's consistent policy implemented with regard to NATO's Eastern European partners. This decision is particularly important after President Obama's statement on September 3, 2014, in Tallinn.

"Then the US president said that Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius are just as important to protect as Berlin, Paris and London."

Bergmanis added that the decision paves the way for more commitments to the defense of Eastern Europe at July's Warsaw NATO summit meeting.

Last November, more than 70 soldiers from the US Cavalry arrived in Latvia with six UH-60 "Black Hawk" helicopters, the second US helicopter unit to stay in Lielvārde Air Base.

The latest rotation at the Adazi military base saw 170 soldiers from the US arrive in January.

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