Last U.S. servicemembers to leave Iceland Sept. 30

  • Published
  • By Jim Garamone
  • American Forces Press Service
A 65-year segment of history ends Sept. 30, when the last American servicemembers based in Iceland will leave the country. 

U.S. servicemembers will continue to work with, train with and operate with their NATO ally, but troops will not be based in the island nation, said Thomas F. Hall, assistant defense secretary for Reserve Affairs and the man who negotiated the U.S.-Iceland agreement.

Mr. Hall said the last American servicemembers will take down the U.S. flag at Naval Air Station Keflavik at 5 p.m. Sept. 30 and then depart.

The United States will continue to defend Iceland as part of the 1951 Defense Agreement between the two nations and as a NATO ally. An attack on one NATO nation is considered an attack on all.

In March 2006, the United States announced the decision to close American facilities on the island and reassign the servicemembers. Since then, U.S. and Icelandic officials have been working together to craft the new relationship.

At one time, Iceland had more than 10,000 U.S. servicemembers based there. Then, the threats came from first Nazi Germany and then the Soviet Union. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the threats have changed and come from new directions: terrorism, international crime and drug trafficking, Mr. Hall said.

The United States is stepping up its coordination with Iceland to help maintain the security of the country and the region against such emerging threats. U.S. forces could go back into the country quickly if conventional threats re-emerged, Mr. Hall said. The assistant secretary said there will be at least yearly exercises and U.S. ships will visit the nation on a regular basis.

Even before the U.S. entry into World War II, the U.S. government vowed to defend Iceland. In 1940, Denmark, which then had sovereignty over Iceland, fell to the Nazis. British troops moved into Iceland to defend the nation, which has never had a standing military force.

In July 1941, U.S. forces landed in Keflavik and replaced the Brits. With a few short breaks, American servicemembers have provided security for Iceland ever since.

During World War II and the Cold War, Iceland was critical to keeping the sea lines of communication open. The U.S. maintained aircraft on Iceland to defend Iceland and the North Atlantic sea lanes against conventional military threats: submarines, ships and aircraft. But those threats no longer exist.

A State Department official said the new agreement builds upon "our ironclad commitment" to defend Iceland under the 1951 Defense Agreement and the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty. "The package also puts us on course to see that Iceland's security needs are met and that Iceland contributes to global security requirements in deterring terrorism and countering trafficking in drugs and persons and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction," Mr. Hall said.

Since the 1940s, most American forces based in Iceland were stationed at Naval Air Station Keflavik.