US defense secretary nominee backs permanent troops in Baltics

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The US should have permanent troop presence in the Baltics, signaled James Mattis, the nominee of US president-elect Donald Trump for Secretary of Defense, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday.

Politico reports U.S. Senator John McCain, who recently visited Latvia, as asking Mattis whether the US should establish a permanent military presence in the Baltics. 

After initially dodging the question, Mattis replied, "I do, sir."

While LETA reported on Thursday that Rex Tillerson, nominee for Secretary of State, said during a Senate hearing that the US will fulfill its commitments to NATO even if alliance members have not reached the recommended defense spending threshold of 2% of GDP.

Trump had suggested during his presidential campaign that, as president, he would only defend NATO allies "if they fulfill their obligations" to the US. 

As reported, NATO leaders at the summit in Warsaw in July 2016 approved the deployment of four multinational battalions to the Baltic countries and Poland as part of measures meant to deter Russia from possible aggression.

Their deployment will begin soon and proceed on a rotational basis, however permanent military presence had not been discussed to date.

Canada is the lead nation for the battalion to be stationed in Latvia. Half of the battalion will be Canadian soldiers, and it will also include soldiers from Albania, Italy, Spain, Poland and Slovenia.

The UK will take the lead role in Estonia and Germany in Lithuania.

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