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Pentagon pulls troops as Arctic military exercises cut short over coronavirus

Pentagon pulls troops as Arctic military exercises cut short over coronavirus
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The Defense Department will pull U.S. forces from a multinational Arctic exercise that has been cut short over coronavirus concerns.

“After careful consideration and discussion with Allied and partner participants, Norwegian authorities have made the decision to cancel the remainder of Exercise Cold Response 20,” U.S. European Command said in a statement on Wednesday.

“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," the statement read.

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The exercise, which involves more than 15,000 service members from 10 countries, started March 2 in Norway and was scheduled to wrap up on March 18 but ended a week early.

Troops from Belgium, Norway, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States participate in Exercise Cold Response 20.

U.S. European Command added that it’s working closely with Norway “to manage the safe and orderly transition of our personnel."

With more than 120,000 coronavirus cases worldwide and at least 31 deaths in the United States, the Pentagon is taking extra precautions to protect its service members and personnel, canceling a handful of military exercises and implementing procedures to prevent the spread of the illness.

Several exercises based in South Korea have been canceled, as have two joint drills with Israel, and the multinational Operation African Lion has been scaled back.

On Monday, Pentagon officials said the department is taking steps to control the spread of the virus in the building, including "social distancing" — keeping personnel at least six feet away from each other in meetings — and wiping down workspaces.

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And on Tuesday, the Defense Department announced that Defense Secretary Mark Esper is postponing a trip abroad "out of an abundance of caution" and to lead the Pentagon's response to coronavirus.

As of March 10, three service members, four military dependents, a Defense Department civilian and a contractor have been diagnosed with coronavirus.

Of the service members, the infected include a Marine in Fort Belvoir, Va., a sailor stationed at Naval Support Activity Naples, Italy, and a soldier in Daegu, South Korea.