Pentagon Surrenders to Virus: Military Exercises Cancelled

March 7th, 2020 - by Ryan Browne and Paula Hancocks / CNN & Barbara Starr and Nicole Gaouette / CNN

US-South Korean Combined Military Drill Postponed over Coronavirus Outbreak

Ryan Browne and Paula Hancocks / CNN

 (February 27, 2020) — The US and South Korean militaries announced Thursday that they will postpone a command post training exercise due to growing concerns about the spread of the coronavirus in South Korea, which has infected 25 members of the South Korean military and one US servicemember.

“The Republic of Korea-US alliance has decided to postpone the joint combined command post training planned for the first half of this year until further notice, as the South Korean government has raised the alert level to the highest level due to COVID-19,” Kim Joon-Rak, a spokesman for the South Korean military’s Joint Chief of Staff said at a news conference Thursday, using the official name for the virus.

“The containment efforts of COVID-19 and the safety of (Republic of Korea) and US service members were prioritized in making this decision,” US Army Col. Lee Peters, a spokesman for US Forces Korea, said Thursday.

South Korea has recently confirmed 334 additional cases of novel coronavirus across the country, bringing the national total of confirmed cases to 1,595, according to the South Korean Center for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

Those figures include 25 members of the South Korean military, according to the South Korean defense ministry.

One US servicemember serving as part of the 28,000-strong American contingent in South Korea has also tested positive for the coronavirus and has been placed in quarantine.

A widow of a former servicemember serving with US-Forces Korea and a South Korean national who was working at US installations in Korea have also tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

The US and South Korean defense ministers had said Tuesday that they were considering postponing the exercises due to concerns about the coronavirus.

In a statement Thursday, US Forces-Korea said that the US and South Korean militaries “commitment to the ROK-US alliance remains ironclad and unbreakable, and the decision to postpone the combined training was not taken lightly.”

On Wednesday the US military’s Indo-Pacific Command, which oversees all US troops in the region, restricted all non-essential travel to South Korea for all US servicemembers, contractors and defense department civilians serving as part of the command.

US-Israel War Games Cancelled by Virus

Pentagon cancels major military exercise with Israel due to coronavirus threat

Barbara Starr and Nicole Gaouette / CNN

(March 2, 2020) — The US has canceled a joint military exercise with Israel due to the coronavirus, a US defense official told CNN Monday.

The exercise, known as “Eagle Genesis” was to involve Army paratroops from the 173rd Airborne Brigade stationed in Vicenza, Italy.

“In close coordination with the Israeli government and out of an abundance of caution in the face of the evolving situation with COVID-19, the decision has been made to cancel the exercise. We value our strong partnership with Israel and look forward to continuing training together in the future,” the official said.

There have been 1,600 coronavirus cases in Italy.

Commanders had already restricted access to public areas such as churches, gyms and childcare centers at US army installations in Vicenza and ordered extra Meals Ready to Eat in case they have to quarantine.

As of Monday, the virus had spread to 70 countries and regions, jumping from 50 on Friday. It has infected more than 89,000 around the world, killed more than 3,000 and is already having an impact on the military in Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

Last week the Pentagon cancelled a key joint military training exercise in South Korea and is sending about 70 medical and lab personnel, doctors and nurses to support US forces there and to help test military, dependents and contractor personnel for the coronavirus once test kits arrive from the CDC. They will also to provide clinical care and laboratory support.

In the Middle East, United States Central Command, which overseas operations and bases there, has cancelled all liberty and leave.

Navy ships that have stopped at Pacific ports have been ordered to self-quarantine and stay at sea for two weeks to allow time to observe whether any sailors have picked up the virus.

The head of US European Command, Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters, told the Senate Tuesday that they are carefully monitoring the infection’s impact and anticipate an increase of coronavirus cases in Germany that could lead to restricted troop movement. The lockdowns in Vicenza could be extended as well, he said.

In addition, the virus could affect the Pentagon’s decision to proceed with a lengthy upcoming exercise, involving as many as 20,000 troops training against a Russian threat.

Steps by host countries in the Middle East are also affecting US troops. The resupply of US forces in Iraq is now being done by air because crossings at the land border between Iraq and Kuwait has been heavily restricted.

And more than 60 US personnel who traveled to Israel for an exercise to train against regional threats such as Iran began returning to their bases in Europe on Friday at the request of the Israeli government, although none of them were reported to be ill.

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