August 31, 2015 / 9:42 PM / 2 years ago

U.S. military deploys drones to Latvia on training mission

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. military has deployed two MQ-1 Predator reconnaissance drones and 70 airmen to Latvia on a training mission as part of U.S. efforts to reassure European allies the United States is committed to their security, the Pentagon said on Monday.

A U.S. Air Force MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle assigned to the California Air National Guard's 163rd Reconnaissance Wing flies near the Southern California Logistics Airport in Victorville, California in this January 7, 2012 USAF handout photo obtained by Reuters February 6, 2013. REUTERS/U.S. Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Effrain Lopez/Handout

The deployment of the MQ-1 Predators to Lielvarde Air Base in Latvia over the weekend was the first time the U.S. military has sent a detachment of drones to Latvia to participate in partner training, said Navy Captain Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman.

The United States has stepped up partner training deployments to NATO allies in Eastern Europe since Russia last year seized and annexed the Crimean region of Ukraine, raising concerns that Moscow next might target a member of the Western alliance.

“This temporary deployment of aircraft and personnel ... will test the unit’s ability to forward deploy RPAs (remotely piloted aircraft) and conduct air operations in an effort to help assure our Latvian allies, NATO allies and European partners of our commitment to regional security and stability,” the U.S. European Command said in a statement.

Davis said the deployment of the airmen, members of the 147th Reconnaissance Wing of the Texas Air National Guard, was funded by the European Reassurance Initiative, which aims to beef up U.S. military training with European partners.

Reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Dan Grebler

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