About 1,000 Marines who arrived in Norway last month -- only to have their military exercises canceled due to the pandemic -- will remain in the country for arctic training.
The Marines will be in Norway's high north region until spring, continuing "valuable arctic and mountain warfare training," Maj. Adrian J.T. Rankine-Galloway, a Marine Corps Forces Europe and Africa spokesman, said Thursday.
While a small number of Marines headed back to the U.S. after Norwegian officials canceled a pair of multinational exercises there last month, most of the members of 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, who arrived in the country last month stayed put, he said.
"The United States has a long and close relationship with Norway on issues of defense and security, and that close security relationship continues to mature," Rankine-Galloway said. "Norway offers challenging, rugged terrain that hones our cold-weather and mountain warfare skills with top specialists in fighting and winning in arctic conditions -- the Norwegian military."
Norwegian Defence Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen announced Jan. 26 that two exercises, Reindeer I and Joint Viking, would be canceled over high rates of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Nearly 3,500 troops from five countries were set to participate.
Reports of new COVID-19 cases in Norway have since fallen from a January spike of more than 900 new cases in one day to 358 reported Wednesday, according to global health data tracked by Johns Hopkins University.
Rankine-Galloway said when the Marines arrived in Norway last month, they were isolated and didn't interact with Norwegian personnel until the quarantine period passed "unless medically necessary."
Several Marines tested positive for COVID-19 while they were in quarantine, he added, though he declined to say how many, citing Pentagon policy not to provide specific numbers of cases for operational security reasons.
"The COVID-positive individuals, as well as identified close contacts within the Marine contingent, were isolated and quarantined in accordance with U.S. and Norwegian public health protocols," Rankine-Galloway said. "We will continue to enforce strict measures to mitigate the risk of COVID transmission amongst our forces, our Norwegian allies, and the local populace."
The Marines remaining in Norway are following local and U.S. COVID-19 safety protocols during their training, he said.
"We are working closely with Norwegian military and public health officials to ensure that the Marine Corps deployment will be carried out in a safe manner," he added.
The Marine Corps has been sending units to train in Norway for years. For about four years, Marines had a yearlong presence there, with units changing out every six months.
Last year, the Marine Corps announced it was overhauling its mission in the Scandinavian country, swapping regular rotations for what the service calls an "episodic deployment model" that aligns with big Norwegian military training exercises.