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US Navy to Return to Iceland?

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US Navy to Return to Iceland?

Ásbrú, the former U.S. Naval Air Station in Keflavík.

From the former US naval air base in Keflavík. Photo: Páll Kjartansson.

The US military website Stars and Stripes reported yesterday that the US navy is returning to its former base in Keflavík for the purpose of hunting Russian submarines.

The website states, “The service is asking for funds to upgrade an aircraft hangar at its former base in Keflavík, Iceland, as part of the Defense Department’s fiscal 2017 budget request, according to Navy officials. The hangar will house the P-8 Poseidon, successor to the sub-hunting P-3 Orion once stationed at the base.”

The base, which was established in 1951, closed in 2006. About 2,500 navy and air force personnel were stationed there when the base closing was announced.

Stars and Stripes reports that for now, the Navy is only planning to employ maritime patrol aircraft there for short durations, but may eventually create a permanent patrol mission at the base, resembling the maritime patrol force at the US base in Sigonella, Sicily.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work visited Keflavík last fall to assess new uses for the base.

Foreign Minister Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson told RÚV that the US and Iceland constantly negotiate cooperation and Iceland’s defenses. The US navy routinely sends P-3’s to Keflavík from its base in Sicily to patrol for Russian subs in the North Atlantic, according to Stars and Stripes.

Gunnar Bragi told RÚV’s rás2 radio this morning that no negotiations have taken place regarding a permanent presence for the US military in Iceland again. “That’s something which never has been discussed with us in reality, how it could be implemented, no negotiations have taken place. We don’t know what could happen in the future; the security environment in Europe has changed. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

Gunnar Bragi said Icelandic authorities have emphasized that there be more monitoring around Iceland. “We welcome more activity. That strengthens our defenses and our security,” he stated, and added, “It’s not in the picture to have between two and three thousand people stationed here and lots of planes…We’re simply talking about making the necessary changes to the hangars to make it possible for new planes to arrive and get maintenance and such.”

Update: Stars and Stripes has updated its story since Tuesday, rewording its report. It now says, “The Navy is turning to a former Cold War air base for a familiar mission — hunting Russian submarines,” instead of saying the navy is returning to the base. The emphasis now is on navy aircraft returning, not the navy itself.

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