Iceland Crisis Response Unit

Íslenska Friðargæslan
Active 1990s–present
Country  Iceland
Role Peacekeeping
Engagements Operation Enduring Freedom
Col. Arnór Sigurjónsson
Col. Halli Sigurðsson

The Iceland Crisis Response Unit (ICRU) or Íslenska Friðargæslan, is an Icelandic military unit with a capacity roster of up to 200 people, of whom about 30 are active at any given time. It is operated by the Icelandic Ministry of Foreign Affairs.[1] It is primarily designated for peacekeeping operations and was established in the 1990s to improve the status of Iceland within NATO as it lacked sufficient armed forces to support NATO peacekeeping operations. That role later evolved into providing an appropriate forum for deploying personnel within other organizations such as with OSCE field missions as well as with UN organizations such as UNIFEM, UNRWA and UNICEF.

The ICRU has been deployed to the former territories of Yugoslavia, Kosovo and Afghanistan through NATO missions and UNIFEM and to the Middle East and North Africa with UNICEF, UNRWA and UNHCR. It had a civilian observer mission in Sri Lanka in co-operation with Norway (previously a Nordic mission) and has explosive ordnance disposal personnel from the Icelandic Coast Guard to Lebanon and Iraq.

Iceland deployed its first peacekeepers in 1950, when two Icelandic policemen were sent to Palestine as a part of an UN peacekeeping operation. Though many Icelandic specialists have taken part in various peacekeeping operations since, mostly within the UN and its organizations but also within NATO, it was not until the 1990s that organized participation in peacekeeping operations was initiated, formalized with the establishment of the ICRU in 2001.

In 2008, a portion of uniformed ICRU deployed personnel still armed for self-defense returned their weapons and changed to civilian clothing. The policy since 2008, is that, unless under special circumstances, ICRU personnel do not wear uniforms or carry weapons.

In 2014, the Ministry of Exterior stated that "they do not wear uniforms nor use weapons". As a matter of fact, a college degree is required to join the "peacekeepers". They are more of an aid unit rather than peacekeepers.[2]


The deployed personnel of the ICRU were experts, including Icelandic policemen, Coast Guardsmen and others that had relative training for the concerned institutions. in addition to those mentioned above, these backgrounds range from logistical backgrounds, medical or engineering backgrounds, social sciences and so on. But now, after a law was passed in 2007 the "peacekeepers" need a college degree. In 2014, it's much more of an aid squad rather than peacekeepers.

The previously deployed doctors, nurses, those deployed as Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT) as well as those working at Kabul International Airport (KAIA) were trained by the Norwegian Defence Force (previously the United Kingdom Armed Forces as well) as they were expected to merge into a military environment and the PRT's as well as those working at Kabul airport would be armed.[3]

Despite being equipped and trained as a military force, some Icelandic politicians commonly maintain that the ICRU is a civilian unit. This opinion is based on the fact that no law explicitly states that the unit is a military force. The legal status of the ICRU can thus be compared to the Japanese Self-Defense Forces, even though Icelandic law holds no legal obstructions to forming of military units.


The ICRU classifies its operations in the following manner:

Intelligence gathering

The Icelandic Defence Agency's Intelligence Unit (formerly The Icelandic Intelligence Service, or IIS) is charged with intelligence gathering for Defence purposes as well as expeditionary Peacekeeping operations. The Intelligence Unit's origins lie with the Sheriff of Keflavík International Airport. In 2007, it was transferred to the Defence Office and in 2008, to the Icelandic Defence Agency.


It is often claimed that Iceland has a tradition of non-militarisation and should therefore practice pacifism. The ICRU's existence, among other things, has thus generated much controversy with Icelandic Socialists, Social Democrats and other people on the left in Icelandic politics, with the main focus on ICRU deployments with NATO in Iraq, finalized in 2007, and in Afghanistan, ongoing, as not adhering to these principles.[4] This criticism was particularly fierce when Icelandic peacekeepers were injured in a suicide bombing in Kabul in 2004.

In 2008, some of these concerns were addressed when a portion of ICRU deployed personnel still wearing a uniform and carrying weapons for self-defense, changed to civilian clothing and returned their weapons. According to the then Foreign Minister Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir, ICRU personnel do not wear uniforms or carry weapons unless under special circumstances and then only those that have had the appropriate training.[5]



Small arms

PRT teams previously deployed in Afghanistan as well as those previously working in Kabul International Airport were supplied with the weaponry and ammunition the military forces they are cooperating with use. The standard weaponry was in most cases however of Norwegian origin.[6]

Ranks of the Icelandic Crisis Response Unit


NATO Code OF-10 OF-9 OF-8 OF-7 OF-6 OF-5 OF-4 OF-3 OF-2 OF-1 OF(D) Student Officer
IcelandIcelandNo EquivalentNo EquivalentNo EquivalentNo EquivalentNo Equivalent
No EquivalentNo Equivalent
RanksOfursti (Colonel)Undirofursti (Lt. Col.)Majór (Major)Kafteinn (Captain)Liðsforingi (1st Lt.)Undirliðsforingi (2nd Lt.)


IcelandIcelandNo EquivalentNo EquivalentNo EquivalentNo EquivalentNo Equivalent
No EquivalentNo Equivalent
RanksFlokksstjóri 1.
(Mstr. Sgt.)
Flokksstjóri 2. (Sergeant)Korporáll



See also


  1. ICRU Yearly report for 2007, Page 6
  3. Interview with Erlingur Erlingsson, ICRU on amongst other PRT withdrawal
  4. Kristín Loftsdóttir and Helga Björnsdóttir, 'The 'Jeep-Gangsters' from Iceland: Local Development Assistance in a Global Perspective', Critique of Anthropology, 30 (2010), 23--39. DOI: 10.1177/0308275X09345423; Kristín Loftsdóttir, 'Whiteness is from Another World: Gender, Icelandic International Development and Multiculturalism', European Journal of Women’s Studies, 19 (2012), 41–54.
  5. Press release on ICRU personnel status
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