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Coronavirus Fears Could Force US to Drop Out of NATO’s ‘Defender-Europe’ Drill


U.S. Army Soldiers arrive for exercise DEFENDER-Europe 20 at the Nuremberg Aiprort, Germany, March 5, 2020. (U.S. Army/Capt. Ellen C. Brabo, 7th Army Training Command)

This week NATO has been busy preparing for its largest military exercise of the year. DEFENDER-Europe 20 is a U.S.-led multinational exercise, 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.

However, organizers are now drawing up contingencies plans, with fears of the coronavirus epidemic now prompting calls to scale down America’s participation in the drill.

Last Wednesday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg assured the media that there was “no cancellation of exercises” due to the spread of COVID-19 across Europe. However, earlier this week, NATO member Norway canceled another NATO exercise, Cold Response 20, over similar fears.

Reports suggest that infections among the U.S. and NATO ally ranks are on the rise, so Pentagon official are already preparing to reduce the US commitment for the large annual drill designed to test the alliance’s ability to engage with Russia in the even of a war on European soil.

“U.S. Army Europe is working closely with its host nation partners, closely monitoring the situation, and is taking prudent measures in line with those taken or directed by the host nation. The safety and health of everyone in the community is the paramount concern,” said US Military officials to Newsweek.

“We continue to monitor all of our exercises and activities and will make any appropriate changes needed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Military.com reported that U.S. forces in Europe are now weighing how best to get thousands of troops stateside following the release of a Defense Department policy memo Wednesday ordering a 60-day suspension of military travel to and from countries, including those in Europe.

Earlier in the week, water teams joined the British Army’s 23 Amphibious Engineer Squadron to rehearse NATO’s Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC) at the River Weser in northwestern Germany, ahead of their participation in Defender Europe 20.

Watch NATO’s promotional video of the exercise:

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