The U.S. government has announced plans to remove its forces from Naval Air Station Keflavik, in Iceland, this fall, but reaffirmed its ongoing commitment to the island nation's security.
U.S. Ambassador Carol van Voorst and U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns notified Icelandic Prime Minister Halldor Asgrimsson and Foreign Minister Geir H. Haarde of the decision yesterday, Terry Davidson, a State Department spokesman, confirmed.
The State Department officials assured the Icelandic leaders the United States will continue to honor its agreement to provide Iceland's defense under the auspices of NATO and will work with the Icelandic government to come up with an appropriate arrangement, Davidson said.
The decision is part of an ongoing Defense Department plan to restructure the military footprint overseas, which officials said no longer reflects current and emerging threats, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Joe Carpenter, a Pentagon spokesman, told American Forces Press Service.
"Naval Air Station Keflavik's mission stems from countering military threats from the Cold War era," Carpenter said. "Changes in the international security environment require that U.S. forces adjust accordingly to meet the current global threat."
During the Cold War, the air station served as a base for U.S. fighter and patrol aircraft.
The decision is expected to take effect within the next few months, with no significant military presence in Iceland after September, Carpenter said. Affected servicemembers will receive new assignments that reflect current requirements, he said.
About 1,200 U.S. servicemembers, 100 DoD civilians and about 600 Icelandic civilians are based in Iceland in support of the Iceland Defense Force. The United States spends about $260 million each year to maintain its military presence in Iceland. The United States established the force in 1951 at NATO's request to defend Iceland and the North Atlantic.
U.S. military involvement in Iceland dates back even further, to 1941, when U.S. Marines arrived after an agreement between the U.S., Iceland, and Great Britain. The forces replaced the British garrison that was stationed in Iceland after the British occupation in May 1940.
U.S. forces briefly left Iceland after World War II, but returned after a 1946 agreement between the United States and Iceland permitted continued use of the base. The United States maintained and operated Keflavik Airport, which U.S. forces had built several years earlier to serve as a refueling point for flights to Europe.
Carpenter said the decision to remove U.S. forces from Iceland is no reflection on the two countries' relationship, which remains strong. The U.S. and Icelandic governments are discussing options for security cooperation in today's strategic environment, he said.
"The United States remains fully committed to the U.S.-Iceland defense relationship, the 1951 defense agreement and the North Atlantic Treaty," he said. "We look forward to discussing with the Icelandic government how best to ensure continued close cooperation on defense and security."