NATO scales down exercises due to coronavirus

By Robin Emmott
NATO defence ministers meeting at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels

By Robin Emmott

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - NATO is scaling down military exercises in Europe to curb the spread of the coronavirus, but alliance missions are continuing, including the drawdown of the U.S.-led force in Afghanistan following a peace agreement last month.

"Some of our exercises have been modified or cancelled ... but our forces remain ready," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told a video news conference.

The U.S. Army has already announced a halt to movement of military personnel from the United States to Europe and said it plans to scale down its Defender Europe 20 exercises, billed as NATO's biggest war games in Europe since the Cold War.

Stoltenberg encouraged NATO countries to maintain their military spending despite the economic shock of the virus outbreak, because of the role the military can play in helping to fight it.

"We see that in many allied countries, the armed forces are providing support," Stoltenberg said, citing logistics, border security, military hospitals and other medical support.

Stoltenberg said there had been no reports of infections of the disease among members of NATO's military mission in Afghanistan and that troops would continue to come home as agreed under a U.S. peace deal with the Taliban last month.

The head of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan said on Thursday that there was a temporary pause in new troops moving into the country, however.

U.S. General Scott Miller said that additionally, 1,500 service members, civilians and contractors who arrived within the past week would be staying in screening facilities as a precaution.

Germany said on Tuesday its troops going in and out of Afghanistan from Germany would be quarantined for 14 days to avoid the virus spreading into military operations.

NATO's train-and-advise mission in Afghanistan will draw down to around 12,000 personnel from 16,000 over the next 135 days, Stoltenberg said, although he said this would depend on the Taliban continuing to reduce violence.

NATO is taking preventative measures across all its operations, including regularly taking the temperatures of its personnel, officials have said.


(Reporting by Robin Emmott; Additional reporting by Idrees Ali in Washington; Editing by Peter Graff and Sonya Hepinstall)