The Marine Corps commandant told about 300 Marines in Norway that they should be prepared for battle, predicting a "bigass fight" to come.
"I hope I'm wrong, but there's a war coming," General Robert Neller told the Marines on Friday, according to Military.com. "You're in a fight here, an informational fight, a political fight, by your presence."
Neller was visiting a Marine rotational force near Trondheim, about 480km north of Oslo. The Marines have been stationed there since January. Their presence in Norway is intended to support operations by Nato and the US European Command, as well as to help the Marine Corps facilitate training in cold weather and mountainous conditions.
But Neller and other Corp leaders told the force they should be prepared for a change in their peacetime mission, should the need arise.
In particular, Neller predicted the Pacific and Russia to be the focus of any conflict in the future outside of the Middle East, Military.com reported.
"Just remember why you're here," Sergeant Major Ronald Green told the troops, according to the military news site. "They're watching. Just like you watch them, they watch you. We've got 300 Marines up here; we could go from 300 to 3000 overnight. We could raise the bar."
As the Marines' top general, Neller is a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Pentagon's senior-most leadership team responsible for contingency planning.
It is unclear to what extent his comments were indicative of an actual war to come or merely meant as a pep talk for troops stationed far from home over the Christmas holiday. A spokesman for the general did not immediately respond to questions.
With unusual fanfare, President Donald Trump unveiled a new National Security Strategy last week that cast China and Russia as competitors for global power and potential threats to the United States.
"China and Russia challenge American power, influence, and interests, attempting to erode American security and prosperity," the document states. "They are determined to make economies less free and less fair, to grow their militaries, and to control information and data to repress their societies and expand their influence."
The Washington Post reported that new national security strategy dances around Russia's attempts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election, much in the way Trump has since he was elected:
Trump has publicly complimented Russian President Vladimir Putin, calling him "very smart," and has sought a better relationship with Russia after years of worsening ties under Obama. He has been openly sceptical of US intelligence findings that Russia mounted a systematic effort to undermine the 2016 presidential election. But Trump has not reversed congressional sanctions on Russia over its actions in Ukraine, as Putin hoped he would.
The strategy document released skirts the issue of Russia's involvement in the presidential election.
"Through modernised forms of subversive tactics, Russia interferes in the domestic political affairs of countries around the world," the document says.