Coronavirus: Pentagon cuts US participation in Europe war games

NATO troops during Saber Strike military exercises in Poland in 2017 (AFP Photo/-)

Washington (AFP) - The US Defense Department said Wednesday it was slashing participation in what was planned as the largest joint US-Europe war games in 25 years due to the threat of coronavirus transmission.

"After careful review of the ongoing Defender-Europe 20 exercise activities and in light of the current Coronavirus outbreak, we will modify the exercise by reducing the number of US participants," the US European Command said in a statement.

While the highest priority elements of the exercises in May and June will go ahead, "the health protection of our force, and that of our Allies and partners, is a top concern," the statement said.

About 37,000 soldiers from 18 NATO countries were to participate in the US-run manoeuvres planned for Germany, Poland and the Baltic States.

The Pentagon was to send more than 20,000 soldiers to Europe for the exercises.

They did not say by how much the number would be reduced.

It was the latest military exercise to be curtailed in the wake of the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, which has spread rapidly from China to much of the rest of the world.

On March 5, the US and Israel cut short their two-week Juniper Cobra 20 war games over the coronavirus outbreak.

South Korean and US forces also postponed indefinitely their forthcoming exercises after Seoul declared a "severe" alert at the end of February.