American forces withdraw from allied exercise in Arctic Norway

Increased tensions between the U.S. and Iran are behind the decision, a Norwegian Armed Forces spokesman said.

U.S. marines take part in Reindeer 2, a Norwegian-U.S. military drill, in Setermoen, Norway, October 29, 2019. (Stoyan Nenov / Reuters file photo)

About 3,000 U.S. troops who were originally set to take part in Cold Response, a series of Norway-led winter drills in the Norwegian Arctic, will not take part after all.

The move by the U.S. to withdraw its troops from the March 2-18 exercises was first reported by the newspaper Fremtiden.

The Norwegian Armed Forces confirm that the exercise will be held without the planned American participation. It is the enhanced American engagement in the Middle East that has made the Pentagon change its plans, spokesman for the Norwegian Armed Forces’ operational headquarters. Lt. Col. Ivar Moen says to NRK.

The tense relations with Iran has consequences also for many of the Americans that currently serve in northern Norway, Moen confirms to the broadcaster.

The Cold Response has been held every other year since 2006. This year’s exercise will be held mainly in the southern part of region Troms and Finnmark, the Norwegian Armed Forces say.

The distance to the Russian border is several hundred kilometers.

The exercise is to enhance the ability of allied troops to carry out joint multinational operations in an environment of high-intensity battle and challenging winter conditions. It also include a high focus on landing operations with marine forces making it to land with landing ships and helicopters to attack enemy positions, the military organizers from the Norwegian Armed Forces’ operational headquarters say.

Cold Response 2020 was thought to become the biggest ever of the bi-annual exercise. However, without the Americans, this year’s drills will not be as extensive as planned.

The UK, Netherlands, Germany, France, Belgium, Denmark, Latvia, Finland and Sweden will also take part.

Joint allied training in northern Norway has over the years intensified. Several NATO countries regularly train their troops in north Norwegian facilities and the U.S. has a permanent rotating unit of up to 700 men in the area.

In 2019, Norway hosted the Trident Juncture, a major NATO exercise that included more than 50,000 soldiers from 31 countries.

The reported lack of capacity among U.S forces to take part in the Cold Response comes after Norway earlier said it would not be able to take part in the U.S.-led exercise Defender Europe-20.

“For 2020, Norway focuses on exercise Cold Response and participation in the Swedish exercise Aurora 2020, and therefore has little capacity to participate in any of the exercises in the U.S. Defender 2020 campaign plan,” says spokesperson for the Ministry of Defense, Per-Thomas Bøe told the Barents Observer.