Territorial militia brace for cuts

A plan for major personnel cuts in Norway's Home Guard has militiamen up in arms ahead of an expected official announcement on Thursday.

The territorial guard, or Heimevern, helped shore up security when in July 2011 the bombs and bullets of confessed killer Anders Behring Breivik sparked fear of a foreign attack on Norway. Record flooding in 2010 and 2011 also saw the time-honoured militia build temporary dykes and rescue victims.

“(Cutting the force) saves money in the short term but it takes a long time to build (the militia) up again,” a militiaman told broadcaster NRK.

Armed Forces commander-in-chief Harald Sunde has warned he would cut the standing force to 30,000 by 2016. Cuts since 2006 have slashed the force from 87,000 to today's 45,000 , a number Prime Minister Stoltenberg has said was desirable.

A year ago, Defence Minister Grete Faremo disbanded the Heimevern’s best equipped force — the 5,000-strong, anti-sabotage HV-016 — without consulting parliament.

The force has been criticised for not being equipped or trained to fulfil the key mission of assisting police during social unrest or the type of terror threat experienced in July. Many were said to arrive at roadblocks without real weapons or minus ammunition.

Sunde and the defence establishment have all but said the HV is a relic of the Cold War, when Nato commitments required as many people as possible for the “front” against the Soviet Union. Just 20 percent of the Guard regularly attend manoeuvres.

With Russia outnumbered and less well-armed than Europe, the HV is being envisioned as a civilian help force financed by 1.1 billion kroner. ($189 million).

Parliament will debate the Defence Ministry’s decision on Thursday.

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Norway confirms US plans to deploy 330 Marines

The Norwegian government has confirmed reports that the United States will deploy over 300 troops in Norway, in a move set to upset neighbouring Russia.

Norway confirms US plans to deploy 330 Marines
US Marines train with Norwegian, Dutch and British troops during Exercise Cold Response earlier this year. Photo: Master Sgt. Chad McMeen
The 330 Marines, to be stationed on rotation around 1,000 kilometres from the Russian border, will be engaged in training and manoeuvres in almost Arctic conditions, the Norwegian defence ministry said.
The announcement comes against a backdrop of increasing tensions between Russia and the West over Ukraine and the conflict in Syria, although Norway itself enjoys good relations with its giant neighbour.
The US already has vast amounts of military equipment positioned in Nato ally Norway — notably in tunnels dug into mountains — but no troops.
“This US-initiative is welcome and also fits well within ongoing processes in Nato to increase exercises, training and interoperability within the Alliance,” Norwegian Defence Minister Ine Eriksen Soreide said in the statement.
“The defence of Norway is dependent on allied reinforcements, and it is crucial for Norwegian security that our allies come here to gain knowledge of how to operate in Norway and with Norwegian forces,” she added.
Before joining Nato in 1949, Norway allayed Russian fears by pledging not to open its territory to foreign combat troops so long as Norway was not attacked or threatened with attack.
This pledge was later amended to allow foreign troops to conduct manoeuvres in Norway.
The deployment, which will begin in January, is a US initiative which Oslo is presenting as a trial to be evaluated during 2017.
Last week the Russian embassy in Oslo expressed surprise as the idea of stationing US troops in Norway was mooted.
“Taking into account multiple statements made by Norwegian officials about the absence of threat from Russia to Norway, we would like to understand why Norway is so much willing to increase its military potential, in particular through the stationing of American forces in Vaernes,” embassy spokesman Maxime Gourov said in an email sent to AFP on Friday.
Former senior Norwegian army officer Jacob Borresen said the planned deployment “sends negative signals eastwards”.
The big risk, he told broadcaster NRK, is that the move creates a Cold War-style “confrontation zone”.
In July, Nato announced it would deploy, also on a rotational basis, four multinational battalions to Poland and to Baltic states to deter any Russian incursion.