Defense Secretary Mark Esper revealed in an exclusive interview with Reuters on Wednesday that he has issued an order stopping military travel overseas for a 60-day period.
The order will affect all military personnel as well as civilians DoD employees and their families, though some exceptions to the travel restrictions will exist. One noted exception will be for troops drawing down from stations in Afghanistan, per the recent U.S.-Taliban peace agreement.
It is not yet clear when the 60 day period will begin.
A Wednesday CNN report appeared to confirm Esper’s comments to Reuters. CNN noted further exceptions for the travel order would extend to U.S. Navy vessels returning back to home ports. The order will reportedly effect 90,000 personnel, including U.S. troops expected to deploy, and those scheduled to return back to the U.S. from deployments.
CNN reported that troops in Iraq and Afghanistan could actually see their deployments extended along the two-month mark indicated by the Pentagon decision, though their reporting is based on comments from unnamed defense officials.
Last week the Pentagon implemented an order limiting travel for personnel within the U.S., and stopping all DoD civilian travel paid for with government funds for a similar period of time. That order effectively stopped Permanent Change of Station (PCS) orders and temporary duty assignments that would otherwise require personnel to move.
The U.S. Army Garrison in Italy and the 8th Army in South Korea previously stopped travel for their command areas out of concern for the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
There are currently 227 US service members, 67 dependents, 81 Defense Department civilians and 40 defense contractors who have tested positive for coronavirus thus far. Those military personnel includes members of U.S. Naval Special Warfare as well as more recently in a U.S. aircraft carrier deployed in the Philippine Sea.
The Pentagon is reportedly preparing for the coronavirus pandemic to worsen, despite President Donald Trump’s stated hope of seeing current coronavirus restrictions lifted by Easter.
“If we stop doing the right thing today, because we think something is going to happen in four weeks, we will make this worse,” Joint Staff Surgeon Brig. Gen. Paul Friedrichs told reporters at the Pentagon on Wednesday. “What we need to do is focus on what we individually and collectively can do today to mitigate this outbreak.”
Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, indicated during a Tuesday military town hall that coronavirus restrictions may apply to as far out as July.