By JARI TANNER
HELSINKI (AP) — NATO has kicked off nearly a two-week U.S.-led naval exercise on the Baltic Sea with more than 7,000 sailors, airmen and marines. It involves 45 vessels and 75 aircraft from 16 nations, including Finland and Sweden, who in May applied to join NATO. The annual BALTOPS naval exercise is not held in response to any specific threat. But NATO said “with both Sweden and Finland participating, NATO is seizing the chance in an unpredictable world to enhance its joint force resilience and strength.” U.S. Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stressed that the Baltic Sea is a strategically important body of water. He spoke aboard the amphibious warship USS Kearsarge, which was moored in Stockholm.