After the Norwegian government canceled an international military exercise this week, the U.S. Marine Corps is determining what to do with the 1,000 Marines who arrived there earlier this month to train.
Norwegian Defence Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen canceled the exercise on Tuesday, citing spikes in coronavirus cases in the country.
"We must be one step ahead to try to avoid the spread of the mutated, and more contagious variant of the virus," Bakke-Jensen said. "We have weighed the arguments and our decision has been to cancel the planned allied exercise activity in Troms."
About 3,400 troops from Norway, the U.S., the U.K., the Netherlands and Germany were scheduled to participate in the cold-weather training exercises, called Rein I and Joint Viking. All but about 500 of them had already arrived in Troms to train.
Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a Marine Corps Forces Europe and Africa spokesman, said there will now be a controlled termination of the exercise in line with COVID-19 restrictions.
"We are working closely with our Norwegian military counterparts to determine the next steps with our Marines who are currently deployed to Norway," Rankine-Galloway said.
About 1,000 Marines arrived in Setermoen, Norway, earlier this month. Troms is about 100 miles north of Setermoen, near the Barents Sea. The waterway is considered Russia's naval backyard.
Bakke-Jensen said as of Tuesday, there would be a halt in the arrival of new allied forces to Indre Troms. For those forces already in place, there will be a "well-planned departure."
More than 61,000 Norwegians have been infected with COVID-19, the sometimes-fatal illness caused by the new coronavirus. More than 500 people have died of the virus there.
The country has seen 14,637 new cases over the last month, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. That's close to the record-high 15,819 cases Norway recorded in November -- the highest level there since the start of the global pandemic.
More than 2.1 million people have died from the virus worldwide. Medical experts are also warning about a new strain of the virus that is more contagious and possibly more deadly.
Last year's iteration of Cold Response, another major NATO exercise, was also significantly scaled back due to the pandemic. Training in and around the Arctic Circle has been a priority for NATO forces to counter Russia in the region.
Bakke-Jensen said some winter training could be tailored "in adherence with proper infection prevention measures until the various departure dates."
"I want to thank all our allies who have shown great flexibility and understanding in a challenging situation," the defense minister said.