Milley visits Sweden to show support for NATO bid

Placeholder while loading article actions

STOCKHOLM — The United States on Saturday prepared to launch a sprawling naval exercise in the Baltic Sea with Sweden, Finland and 13 NATO allies in a visible sign of an expanding partnership as Stockholm and Helsinki seek to join military alliance after Russia invaded Ukraine.

The Baltic Operations exercise involves more than 40 warships and has been held annually for decades, but will change this year to include greater participation from Finland and Sweden, Army Gen. Mark said. A. Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He traveled to Stockholm on Saturday to show his support for Sweden’s bid for membership, a day after a similar stop in Finland.

The two countries have long been partners in the US military, but resisted joining NATO until last month, fearing it would anger Moscow. However, after Russia invaded Ukraine, this changed with significant shifts in public opinion in favor of joining the military alliance in both countries.

Four maps explain how Sweden and Finland could alter NATO security

The new dynamic was evident as the 843ft amphibious warfare ship USS Kearsarge sat in a narrow waterway passing through Stockholm as it was packed with attack helicopters and other aircraft and more than 2,000 Marines and American sailors.

The United States has never moved such a large warship in this capital of nearly a million people, Milley said. This created a spectacle for tourists taking photos and challenges for American troops and Swedish personnel who pressed the ship into the city.

“It was a big development for us,” said Tera Geoffrey, a junior lieutenant assigned to the ship. “Our depth under the keel was less than 10 feet at times.”

Milley told reporters aboard the Kearsarge that President Biden and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin have asked the Pentagon to develop new options to “modestly increase” US military involvement in Sweden where appropriate. Meanwhile, other long-scheduled operations like the naval exercise will continue.

“We’re looking at things we can do on the ground with the Marines or the military, things we can do with the special forces, things we can do with the air force or the sea,” Milley said.

While the NATO alliance is designed to be defensive, joining Sweden and Finland would further lock up the Baltic Sea with NATO countries, which would be “very problematic” for Russia on the military plan and “very advantageous” for NATO, Milley said. The Swedish army is not large, Milley said, but it has an excellent navy, modern equipment and well-trained ground forces.

Membership demands come as NATO ally Turkey threatens to block Finland and Sweden from joining the alliance, citing the presence in their country of militants from the PKK, a Kurdish separatist group that the US and Turkish governments have labeled them as terrorist organizations.

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, alongside Milley, said the Finnish and Swedish governments would continue to discuss Turkey’s concerns, but that Sweden had taken a “very clear stance against terrorists”.

“There is no doubt about Sweden’s position in this regard,” she said.

As Russia threatened and finally launched its invasion, the Pentagon increased its number of forces in Europe from around 80,000 to over 100,000 – including Marines and sailors at sea. Maj. Gen. Frank Donovan, who oversees personnel from the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, said the unit has visited Iceland, Norway, Estonia, Greece and Turkey in recent months.

“We’re able to match the strength to the task, and we’re very maneuverable,” Donovan said.

The Marines deployed newly adapted radar originally designed to help fishermen find a potential catch, Donovan said. It has been adapted to be placed on islands or shorelines to track the movement of ships up to 60 miles away, with data tracked on a tablet, he said.