The remainder of one major military exercise between the US and several European nations will be canceled as a “precautionary measure,” and US involvement will be reduced in another exercise amid the spread of the coronavirus outbreak, US European Command announced Wednesday.
It is just the latest major military exercise to be discontinued, curtailed or postponed due to growing concerns about the pandemic.
The movement of US military personnel in Europe, Asia and the Middle East have also been placed under some increased restrictions to help prevent the spread of the virus, and more restrictions are expected.
The decision to cancel the remainder of “Exercise Cold Response 20” was made by the chief of the Norwegian Joint Headquarters in cooperation with the leadership of the Norwegian Armed Forces.
“By ending the exercise now, we will also avoid any unnecessarily burden to the civilian health care system, for example with illness among soldiers, accidents or corona testing among personnel,” Lt. Gen. Rune Jakobsen, the chief of the Norwegian Joint Headquarters, said Wednesday.
More than 15,000 service members were scheduled to participate in the exercise, which primarily takes place above the arctic circle that includes militaries from Belgium, Norway, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, the UK and the United States.
“The decision is a precautionary measure in response to the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19 and to protect the health and safety of all participants and local population. The health of our force continues to be a top priority and we are committed to maintaining mission readiness,” said US European Command, which oversees US military operations in Europe, in a statement.
Finland had already announced that it would cease participating in the exercise due to coronavirus concerns.
US European Command also announced Wednesday that it would reduce the number of US participants in a separate scheduled upcoming exercise with other nations in light of the coronavirus outbreak.
The command said in a news release that activities associated with Exercise Defender-Europe 20 “will be adjusted accordingly and we’ll work closely with Allies and partners to meet our highest priority training objectives.”
According to NATO, the exercise is a “U.S.-led multinational exercise, including NATO’s participation. It is the largest deployment of U.S.-based forces to Europe in more than 25 years with 20,000 soldiers deployed directly from the U.S. to Europe.”
Last week, the US military announced that 23 US Army soldiers taking part in the exercise in Norway have been placed in isolation as a precautionary measure after one Norwegian service member tested positive for coronavirus, according to a statement from Marine Forces Europe.
On Tuesday, US military leaders announced that they would be scaling back the size and scope of the African Lion military exercise with Morocco, Tunisia and Senegal “to minimize exposure of US and partner nation service members to the novel coronavirus.”
This story has been updated with additional developments Wednesday.