U.S. F-15s deployed to Iceland

Updated 7:50 PM EDT, Sat April 2, 2016
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Story highlights

The U.S. is deploying 12 F-15C Eagles and approximately 350 airmen to Iceland and the Netherlands

Iceland is the only country in NATO that does not have a military

CNN —  

Demonstrating its commitment to a “free” and “secure” Europe, the United States deployed 12 F-15C Eagles and approximately 350 airmen to Iceland and the Netherlands on Friday, the Air Force announced.

U.S. aircraft units from the 131st Fighter Squadron at Barnes Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts and the 194th Fighter Squadron at Fresno Air National Guard Base in California will support NATO air surveillance missions in Iceland and conduct flying training in the Netherlands.

The F-15s are not the only package of American fighters being sent to Europe in an effort to deter further Russian aggression in the region.

In February, the U.S. said it will send six F-15s to Finland as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, which the United States initiated in 2014 to reassure NATO allies after Russian military intervention in Ukraine. These aircraft are scheduled to deploy next month.

Although it maintains a small coast guard force, Iceland is the only country in NATO that does not have a military.

The U.S. used to have an air base in Iceland during the Cold War when Iceland sat at a key strategic location in the middle of the Atlantic.

But that base was closed in 2006.

While NATO has maintained air control over Iceland since 2008, their defenses have been unable to stop Russia from reportedly making air incursions into Icelandic airspace.

The F-15s are part of the U.S.’s Theater Security Packages, a rotational force used to augment existing Air Force capabilities in Europe, according to the Air Force.

“Russia’s increased patrols with fighters, bombers and submarines in the North Atlantic have brought new attention to the region and the need for NATO to have a presence there as well,” said Magnus Nordenman, director of the Transatlantic Security Initiative Atlantic Council.

Tensions between the West and Russia have increased in recent years, in large part because of Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea and its support for separatists elsewhere in eastern Ukraine.

The aircraft are scheduled to remain in Europe through September.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated the year NATO began maintaining air control over Iceland.

CNN’s Ryan Browne contributed to this report.