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    To welcome Minnesota National Guard troops to Camp Vaernes, Norway, a flag-raising ceremony is held to commemmorate the partnership in peace between two nations. The ceremony held on 14 Feb. marked the beginning of the 40th annual Norwegian Exchange.

    US Marines Hanker for Norwegian Base to Become Major Hub in Europe

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    In early 2017, hundreds of soldiers from the US Marine Corps landed in Norway to protect the Nordic country. Today, they intend to expand their presence and make Norway's Værnes their chief European base.

    As 330 US soldiers from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, were stationed in Norway on a rotation basis in January, Oslo made it clear that this was not a permanent solution, but rather a trial. Nevertheless, the US Marine Corps would like to increase its presence in Norway, effectively making Værnes its major hub in Europe.

    Only five months into their trial period in Norway, the US marines have participated in several joint exercises with the Norwegian forces and their allies, including the major winter exercise Joint Viking, which was held in the counties of Troms and Finnmark in northernmost Norway, and are seeking to expand.

    ​Today, Norway and the US are discussing the usefulness of prolonging the agreement beyond 2017, Lars Gjemble of the Norwegian Defense Ministry told the Norwegian daily Verdens Gang. Lars Gjemble wrote in an email to Verdens Gang that the US Navy's rotation-based training and practice routines at Værnes are a test scheme that seems to work well and is currently under evaluation.

    "There is an ongoing dialogue between the Armed Forces and the US Marine Corps about the exchange of experience and the assessment of how useful it is to possibly continue the scheme. It is too early to comment on whether the scheme will be continued and how," Lars Gjemble wrote.

    Meanwhile, the US Marine Corps is eager to extend its control over the military base off Norway's Trondheim, which also has access to a series of caves maintained by the Norwegian Army, which are said to stock enough gear, vehicles and ammunition to equip a 4,600 strong force.

    "We could bring Marines out here in various capability sets, from airplanes, to ground maneuver, to logistics, to communications, to cyber. They can come out here and practice their skills with a partner of choice, and we would help coordinate that and lead that. They would come for two, three weeks, and learn and go back. That's a ready, capable force for the United States," Major General Niel Nelson, the commander of US Marine Corps Forces Europe and Africa, said, as quoted by the website Military.com.

    In addition to the Værnes base, the Marine Rotational Force Europe also includes a 400-strong Marine Black Sea Rotational Force, based at Mihail Kogălniceanu, Romania, which has been active since 2010.

    The US Marines arrived in Norway as part of a bilateral agreement on request from the American side. The general idea behind the transfer is to boost Norway's defense against perceived Russian "aggression" and is in line with similar buildups in other parts of Europe, such as the Baltic region.

    Per definition, the Værnes garrison remains under Norwegian command, yet is likely to come under NATO command in case of a crisis. The two countries are going to split the bill, whereas the Norwegian side expects additional annual costs of approximately 40 million NOK ($4.7 million). Last week, Norway increased the financing of the Værnes base by 10 million NOK ($1.2 million) due to extended practice routines, the Norwegian newspaper Adresseavisen reported.

    Ever since late 2016, the Værnes agreement has been a subject of debate, since Norway specifically declared that it would not allow foreign combat forces or military bases on Norwegian soil during peacetime. Therefore, Norwegian army bosses and government officials have repeatedly downplayed the importance of the rotational force, whereas US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter returned the courtesy by maintaining that the US had "no closer ally to Norway."

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