New NATO center to be running within months

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Defense Minister Raimonds Vejonis said Monday that Latvia's planned new regional rapid response center will be at least partially operational in a matter of months - well ahead of the expected 2017 launch of a full-scale 'Spearhead' rapid reaction force for the region.  

Speaking on LTV's Rita Panorama morning news show, Vejonis said the new facility, dubbed a "Force Integration Unit" (FIU) announced as part of a NATO package of regional measures last week, is expected to be partly operational by the middle of the year.

"By June we will be starting work at the premises, and full operations will be underway by the time of the [2016] NATO Summit to be held in Warsaw," Vejonis said.

Similar FIU centers will be opened in Estonia, Lithuania, Romania, Poland and Bulgaria.

"Around forty people will work in the headquarters, partly from Latvia and partly from other NATO member states," Vejonis said. 

"It will be located in Riga and the process has already started but at the moment we are looking at locations that will fit the precise criteria," he added, stressing that no new building would be required, with the HQ likely to take up residence in a facility already owned by the Defense Ministry.

The primary responsibility of the facility would be "to coordinate the response to a crisis situation in the country," Vejonis said.

Latvia will pick up the bill for the facility and its own contingent from its own budget, but other staff would be paid for by their respective member states.

The new center will form part of a raft of reinforcements in the region which includes enhanced air patrols and ongoing rotations of NATO troops taking part in training exercises involving heavy equipment as well as infantry and airborne units. 

Latvia also plans to increase its troop numbers by around 2,000 soldiers  by 2018 - a rise equivalent to nearly 40% on top of its current manpower.

However, after a meeting with Vejonis later on Monday, President Andris Berzins - who is also constitutionally the Commander-In-Chief of the armed forces - said he didn't see why the fresh recruitment was necessary, the LETA newswire reported.

"I do not think it is particularly necessary to increase the number," Berzins said. 

Instead, the President stressed the need for more hardware including vehicles, surveillance equipment and anti-aircraft defense systems as well as military training.



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