The US military has curtailed another major military exercise, Defender-Europe 20, which had been anticipated to be one of the largest US military drills in Europe since the end of the Cold War, in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
It is just the latest major 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 increased restrictions to help prevent the spread of the virus.
“In response to the current outbreak of the COVID-19 virus and recent guidance by the Secretary of Defense, we have modified exercise DEFENDER-Europe 20 in size and scope. As of March 13, all movement of personnel and equipment from the United States to Europe has ceased. The health, safety and readiness of our military, civilians, and family members is our primary concern,” US European Command said in a statement.
The exercise had been touted as a sign of US solidarity with Europe and included the movement of some 20,000 troops to the continent.
Several other drills that were linked to the larger exercise, including Dynamic Front, Joint Warfighting Assessment, Saber Strike and Swift Response, “will not be conducted,” according to the statement.
“Forces already deployed to Europe for other linked exercises will return to the United States,” the statement said.
Last week, CNN reported that the remainder of one major military exercise between the US and several European nations would be canceled as a “precautionary measure.”
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 unnecessary 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 and includes militaries from Belgium, Norway, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, the UK and the United States.
On Saturday, US Africa Command announced it was also canceling a planned exercise as part of the effort to contain the coronavirus outbreak.
“We continue to remain on top of the COVID-19 situation and take appropriate action to protect our troops and African partners,” said Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, commander of US Africa Command in a statement. “We may reduce in scope the size or cancel an exercise, but we will continue to lean forward to make sure troops in Africa have what they need.”
Last week, 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.”
And earlier this month, the US scrapped major exercises with Israel. A key joint military training exercise in South Korea was canceled late last month as the outbreak intensified.
CNN’s Barbara Starr contributed reporting.