US troops to take part in 172 exercises in 2017, says Defense Minister

U.S. soldiers are scheduled to participate in 172 military exercises in the Baltic states next year, Latvian Defense Minister Raimonds Bergmanis said Wednesday, reported LETA newswire.

"The presence of U.S. soldiers will be visible, commonplace and frequent,"  Bergmanis said.

He voiced hope that the military forces of the Baltic countries will have enough strength to participate in all these drills.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said in Riga on Tuesday that the United States is ready to deploy 4,200 troops in Eastern Europe, including the Baltic states.

While Bergmanis said it is not known yet how many U.S. soldiers might arrive in Latvia for various exercises, as discussion about these plans is still ongoing.

First of all, it is necessary to implement the agreements reached at the NATO Warsaw Summit. Work is also under way on cooperation with Canadians who will be leading a multinational battalion stationed in Latvia.

The deployment of a U.S. force, with the headquarters in Poland, will definitely provide additional security to the region, Bergmanis said. "We are glad about the United States' active involvement in the stabilization of the region's security and assistance in building our deterrence policy," the Latvian minister said.

Meanwhile  on Wednesday Latvia's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Edgars Rinkēvičs, met with a U.S. Congressional Delegation led by Representative Chris Gibson, a member of the House Armed Services, Agriculture, and Small Business Committees.

A release by the ministry said: "U.S. Representatives commended Latvia’s accomplishments in the strengthening of national defense and international security, including the commitment of Latvia to increase its defense spending, and Latvia’s contribution to NATO joint international military missions abroad. Excellent cooperation between the National Armed Forces of Latvia and the Michigan National Guard was also highlighted. The U.S. Congressional Delegation also recognized that Latvia’s status of an OECD member is proof to [sic] the economic maturity of the country."  

The conversation also addressed the current international and regional security issues, touching upon Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, its influence on the security environment in the region and the Euro-Atlantic space, and the EU and U.S. sanctions policy against Russia, according to the release, though no direct quotes were attributed to any of the participants. 

As well as Gibson the delegation included U.S. Representative Paul Cook, a member of the House Armed Services, Foreign Affairs, and Natural Resources Committees; U.S. Representative Austin Scott, a member of the House Armed Services, and Agriculture Committees; U.S. Representative Dan Lipinski, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure, and Science, Space and Technology Committees; U.S. Representative Rich Nugent, a member of the Committee on House Administration; U.S. Representative Christ Stewart, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, and the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence; and U.S. Representative Dan Benishek, a member of the Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Veterans’ Affairs committees.

The visit of the U.S. Congressional Delegation to Latvia is part of a larger regional trip.

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