U.S. to Remove Military Forces And Aircraft From Iceland Base

By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 17, 2006

The United States plans to withdraw four Air Force fighter jets and a rescue helicopter squadron from its military base in Iceland by September, a move that will leave the island nation with virtually no military defenses and that has caused diplomatic tension between the two NATO allies.

Bush administration officials told Icelandic leaders this week that the United States would remove the F-15 fighter jets and several helicopters from Keflavik Naval Air Station, a base that has provided for Iceland's security since 1951 as part of a bilateral agreement. The base was first used as an air bridge to Europe during World War II and later played a role in deterring the advance of the Soviet Union during the Cold War, when the U.S. military patrolled Icelandic airspace and conducted anti-submarine missions in the North Atlantic.

Defense officials said the decision to withdraw the permanently stationed aircraft, more than 1,200 U.S. military personnel and 100 Defense Department civilian employees came after discussions about moving U.S. assets to places where they are needed more. More than 600 Icelandic employees could lose their jobs as a result.

"After careful consideration of the global strategic environment, including the new threats and demands on resources, the continued permanent presence of U.S. fighter aircraft at Keflavik is no longer an appropriate use of those assets, nor is it in the best interest of the alliance," said Lt. Cmdr. Joe Carpenter, a Pentagon spokesman.

The United States spends about $260 million annually as part of an agreement to help provide for Iceland's defense, but officials in Iceland had been negotiating to pay the bulk of the costs if the U.S. military stayed.

"We are deeply disappointed over this decision," said Helgi Agustsson, Iceland's ambassador to the United States, who said he thought negotiations were going well before Washington abruptly told officials in Reykjavik of the plan to withdraw. "We have a defense agreement with the U.S., and with the withdrawal of the fighter aircraft, it raises the question of credible authority. Iceland has no military forces."

Officials in the United States and Iceland said they are unsure what the continued defense of Iceland would look like, though they hinted that NATO could have a presence.

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