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Top US general warns adversaries it’d be ‘terrible, tragic mistake’ to test US amid coronavirus crisis

Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark T. Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark A. Milley speak to reporters at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., March 2, 2020. (DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)
April 10, 2020

On Thursday, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley warned America’s enemies not to see the ongoing coronavirus pandemic as an opportunity to exploit a distracted U.S. military,

Milley delivered his warning during a virtual Pentagon town hall event on Thursday. Milley was asked about the overall readiness of U.S. forces in light of the coronavirus, to which he replied, “I wouldn’t want any mixed messages going out there to any adversaries that think they can take advantage of an opportunity, if you will, at a time of crisis.  That would be a terrible and tragic mistake if they thought that.”

He continued, “The U.S. military is very, very capable to conduct whatever operations are necessary to defend the American people.  And we are ready today, we’ll be ready tomorrow.  And we will adapt ourselves to be able to operate within a COVID-19 environment.  We’re already doing that.”

Milley assessed that just under 2,000 U.S. defense personnel have tested positive for coronavirus.

“It’ll probably go up, but 2,000 out of 2.3 million is not huge,” Milley said.

Milley said approximately 50,000 medical personnel and National Guard members have also mobilized in various efforts to combat the virus within the U.S.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper also noted that of the approximately 2,000 defense personnel with the coronavirus, most cases have only presented with mild to moderate symptoms.

“We have a far, far, far smaller number of hospitalizations,” Esper said. “But when you look at that number, it’s less than 2,000, it’s much lower in terms of a rate of infection than you see in our civilian counterparts.”

Milley and Esper also noted efforts to minimize the spread of coronavirus throughout the U.S. ranks and the military has implemented travel orders limiting movements abroad, as well as some movements within the U.S.

Esper also recently adopted facemask guidance from the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and ordered service members, defense employees and civilians on military installations to begin wearing masks in instances where they cannot maintain at least six feet of distance.

President Donald Trump recently warned Iran against carrying out a “sneak attack” on U.S. positions in Iraq.

Other military officials have also warned against attacks by U.S. adversaries throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Following recent airstrikes against members of the Al-Shabaab terror group in Somalia, U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Miguel Castellanos, the deputy director of operations for the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) said “As the world works to contain COVID-19, it is important our partners recognize we continue to be committed to the security progress in Somalia and will continue to disrupt al-Shabaab’s terrorist activities.”

Concerns about the military’s handling of coronavirus have been raised, however, by high profile coronavirus outbreaks such as those aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt.