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US special ops to get a boost for Baltic mission

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The Pentagon intends to spend more than $15 million to improve working conditions for special operations forces on missions in the Baltics, where elite U.S. troops have been a quiet but steady presence in recent years.

The Pentagon’s 2019 budget calls for establishing new operations and training facilities in Estonia, one of NATO’s smallest and most exposed member states that shares a border with Russia.

“The facilities essentially provide administrative and logistics space to enable our SOF to continue conducting bilateral training with our allies,” said Maj. Michael Weisman, Special Operations Command Europe spokesman.

Since 2014, SOCEUR has had forces working with allies in the Baltics to help bolster local militaries. With no end in sight to a broader U.S. military campaign to reinforce NATO’s eastern flank, officials said there was a need for upgrades for the special operators. The facilities, which serve as a small base of operations in Baltics, are on an undisclosed Estonian military site.

Unlike other U.S military efforts in the region, the military offers few details about what its special operations troops are up to beyond general statements about working with allies. SOCEUR declined to say how many of its troops are currently in the Baltics, and details of the training are generally not available.

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The ongoing Operation Atlantic Resolve — a mission to deter a resurgent Russia and reassure allies in the region — has resulted in billions of dollars made available for exercises and infrastructure upgrades in NATO member states located along Russia’s periphery. Funding for SOCEUR adds up to a sliver of the overall European Deterrent Initiative, which pays for the operations.

For example, the Army is slated to get about $144 million to upgrade weapons depots, staging sites and logistics networks in Poland, which has emerged as a regional hub for U.S. Army Europe.

The upgrade for SOCEUR’s forces in the Baltics is a sign that those troops could be in the region for the long haul.

“The facilities referenced in the FY19 budget are small operational facilities to support our continuing deployment to Estonia as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve,” Weisman said.

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© 2018 the Stars and Stripes

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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