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Troops are leaving Iceland again.

About 150 airmen from RAFs Lakenheath and Mildenhall are scheduled to wrap up a weeklong defense exercise Saturday in the North Atlantic island nation, once a strategic base for U.S. and NATO operations during the Cold War.

But with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and new perceived threats elsewhere in the world came the October 2006 closure of Naval Air Station Keflavik — part of the military’s drawdown and realignment of Europe-based forces.

The U.S. has pledged to continue defending Iceland, which has no military but mans a national police force and coast guard. This week’s training mission — dubbed Operation Northern Viking — is the second such show of force since the pullout, which removed 2,500 servicemembers and civilians from Keflavik.

"We’ve been working to reassure the Icelandic people we can defend them from a ship-borne or aerial attack," Maj. Chad Daniels, commander of the Mildenhall-based 351st Air Expeditionary Refueling Squadron, said Friday from Keflavik. "We’ve also been establishing a common set of air rules with the multinational forces."

Along with a contingent of U.S. seamen and troops from NATO, the England-based airmen have been conducting a series of offensive and defensive training scenarios. Four Lakenheath-based F-15s and two Mildenhall-based KC-135s joined a multinational air and naval fleet at Keflavik International Airport, built by the U.S. during World War II, for the exercise.

Air-to-air and air-to-ground missions were conducted every day, said Lt. Col. Michael King, commander of the 404th Air Expeditionary Group, which includes units from U.S. Air Forces in Europe and the United States.

"We have fairly good interoperability in these types of exercises," King said Friday from Keflavik. "If we need to do it for real, it seems like it will work very well."

Another boon, King said, was the experience pilots got flying sorties with foreign aircraft.

"Anytime you fly against an air frame that’s different than yours, you learn," he said.

A 1951 agreement between Iceland and the U.S. provides the framework for the nation’s U.S.-led protection, though the wartime defense of Iceland remains a NATO commitment. In April 2007, Iceland and Norway signed a bilateral agreement providing for Norwegian aerial surveillance and defense of Icelandic airspace, according to the CIA World Factbook.


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