Defense Secretary Esper explained what the U.S. military is doing as part of the nation’s COVID-19 response so far — including mask distribution, help in the quest for more hospital beds, and a desire for the military to be “the last resort” in the current pandemic. Find latest Defense Department fact sheet (PDF), here.
“The Department of Defense will make available up to five million N-95 respirator masks and other personal protective equipment from our own strategic reserves to the Department of Health and Human Services for distribution,” Esper said at the Pentagon on Tuesday afternoon. “The first one million masks will be made available immediately.”
The department is also ready to provide some 2,000 room ventilators and is considering activating National Guard and Reserve units to help with the nationwide response, Defense One’s Patrick Tucker and Kevin Baron report off Esper’s briefing. Exactly what those units would be called to do, however, remains unclear. The secretary also urged state and local officials to seek their own solutions first. “In some ways, we want to be the last resort,” Esper said.
Navy’s hospital ships getting ready to respond. USNI News reports that USNS Comfort and USNS Mercy are beginning the days-long process of preparing to deploy — likely to help take on non-coronavirus patients to lift the load from shore-based hospitals. Read, here.
Still waiting for direction from the Trump administration. These steps aside, much of the Defense Department and the federal government, including the VA, Army Corps of Engineers, and FEMA — have yet to receive specific directions for responding to the pandemic, the New York Times reports.
Read more ideas for military help from Kelly Magsamen, special assistant to the president and senior director for strategic planning at the National Security Council under President Barack Obama. “Beds, vaccines, money – after protecting troops abroad, Esper should turn DOD's focus to protecting Americans right here,” she writes at Defense One, here.
Southern-border crossers to be deported immediately. Migrants and asylum seekers alike would be sent back to Mexico “without any detainment and without any due process” under a policy to be announced in the next day or so, the New York Times reported Tuesday. “Confirmed cases of the virus in Mexico stand at 82, compared with around 5,600 in the United States and more than 470 in Canada.”
The relevant federal law allows such a step only to “prevent the introduction” of a disease, notes ProPublica’s Dara Lind: “The question, legally, is whether ‘introduction’ applies to a disease already present.”
Happening today: Two planned COVID-19 briefings by the U.S. military. First up is Air Force Gen. David Goldfein for an on-the-record, off-camera, telephone press briefing about the U.S. Air Force's role. That’s scheduled for 11:00 a.m. ET.
Then, Joint Staff Surgeon Brig. Gen. Paul Freidrich and Chief Pentagon Spox Jonathan Hoffman scheduled their own on-the-record, off-camera telephone press at 1:30 p.m. ET.
$8.3 billion emergency funding request. That’s the Pentagon’s slice of a $45.8 billion request to Congress for coronavirus response in fiscal 2020 (and that’s distinct from the $1 trillion stimulus proposal), Defense News’ Joe Gould reports: “The request includes resources to facilitate changes in servicemember personnel policy; expedite access to rapid COVID-19 diagnostics; ensure access to medical care, including additional medical countermeasures; address the impacts of the pandemic on logistics and supply chains, including pharmaceuticals and personal protective equipment; and bolster the overall national response.” Read, here.
Will Congress be able to convene to pass the 2020 defense bills? Gould looks at the schedule and ponders whether it will be advisable, or possible, to gather large numbers of lawmakers and staff for votes.
For the after-action report: A week before President Trump took office, his Cabinet officials and other top aides took part in a tabletop pandemic-response exercise put together by outgoing Obama administration officials who tried to impress upon their successors the importance of preparation for a global outbreak of an infectious disease. Politico, here.
Several U.S. attitudes are working against Americans in the current pandemic, the Associated Press reports this morning. Those include a U.S. culture that "prizes concrete ideas," obsesses over outcomes, and feels it can probably endure most everything with a kind of rugged individualism.
And all that adds up to a "boring, difficult, [and] challenging" war against the coronavirus today, said Lorenzo Servitje, an assistant professor of literature and medicine at Lehigh University. "It’s not everyone running around with machetes and fighting against people who become cannibals overnight," he said of what we all face today. "It’s trying to home school your kids, manage finances, reconfigure the way we’ve been doing things.”
Meanwhile in Yemen, a doctor in the capital city of Sana'a told the AP separately today, “I cannot even speak about our preparedness for the coronavirus, because we have none.” And Yemen is not alone. Health care systems across Libya, the Gaza Strip, Syria and Afghanistan "have been gutted" from years of war — and nearly every one of them face critical shortages of badly needed supplies (gloves, goggles, ventilators, e.g.) to weather the current pandemic.
Said one doctor in Tripoli: “We don’t have the testing capabilities, so we can only rely on symptoms and signs. But when I do see symptoms and try to report them, no one does anything... I can say with certainty that those likely carrying the virus have continued their lives as normal, passing it to family members and others on the street." Read on, here.
From Defense One
‘We Want to Be the Last Resort,’ Says Defense Secretary // Kevin Baron and Patrick Tucker: Pentagon’s Esper says the U.S. military is ready to help fight the coronavirus, but may not be the best — or fastest — solution.
Trump Calls Out China’s COVID-19 Disinformation // Patrick Tucker: Chinese diplomats and officials have been spreading a lie about the virus’ origin.
F-35 Factories In Italy, Japan Are Reopening After Closing for Coronavirus // Marcus Weisgerber: An assembly plant in Japan is already open and another in Italy is expected to reopen on Wednesday.
How the Pentagon Should Get into the Coronavirus Fight at Home // Kelly Magsamen: Beds, vaccines, money – after protecting troops abroad, Esper should turn DOD's focus to protecting Americans right here.
After Discovering a Sailor With Coronavirus, the US Navy Crowded Dozens Into One Space // T. Christian Miller, Robert Faturechi, and Megan Rose: The incident shows how hard it may be for the Navy to limit coronavirus spread aboard its ships.
Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Don’t forget to thank your local grocer for their part helping hold families and communities together — or at least for trying to help us all be a little less hungry. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1942 via Executive Order 9102, the U.S. established the War Relocation Authority to carry out the forced detention of Japanese Americans during World War II. The WRA’s mission would finally end more than four years later when President Truman signed Executive Order 9742 on June 26, 1946.
The EU says Russian media has deployed a “significant disinformation campaign” against nations in the West in order to compound the impact of the coronavirus. The goal seems to be “to make it harder for the EU to communicate its response to the pandemic,” Reuters reports today, after reviewing the nine-page document.
“A specialist EU database has recorded almost 80 cases of disinformation about coronavirus since Jan. 22,” Reuters writes. Perhaps most notably at this stage of the pandemic, “Russian media in Europe have not been successful in reaching the broader public,” but all of its disinformation efforts “provide a platform for anti-EU populists and polarise debate.”
Russian authorities, of course, deny the allegations. More here.
In other media and coronavirus news, China announced Tuesday it’s expelling U.S. journalists from outlets like the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Washington Post. Journalists from those outlets whose credentials will expire at the end of the year — that’s more than a dozen, or most of them — have, as of today, just nine days to "hand back their press cards" and they "will not be allowed to continue working as journalists in the People's Republic of China, including its Hong Kong and Macao Special Administrative Regions."
The Journal called the decision “the largest expulsion of foreign journalists in the post-Mao era.”
Bigger picture: “Under China’s leader, Xi Jinping, the news media has come under an increasingly tighter grip and foreign reporters have been punished with visa denials,” the New York Times reports. “In recent weeks as the coronavirus spread through China, the government cracked down on domestic and foreign reporting, muzzling medical professionals and censoring and removing reports and commentary online that has challenged the official narrative.”
BTW: China today says more expulsions could be coming soon. Reuters has that update, here.
More rocket attacks in Iraq as a new prime minister is selected. “Iraq's president on Tuesday named pro-Western lawmaker and former Najaf city governor Adnan Zurfi as the next prime minister, tasked with ruling a country hit by military unrest, street protests and the coronavirus pandemic,” Agence France-Presse reported Tuesday. You may recall “An earlier [PM] nominee, Mohammad Allawi, failed to form a cabinet by March 2, triggering a new 15-day deadline for President Barham Saleh that ended late Tuesday.”
Possible roadblock: Zurfi’s nomination “was quickly spurned by the powerful Fatah bloc, parliament's second-largest.” More from Reuters, here.
About the attacks: One hit “near the high-security Green Zone in Baghdad,” and the other landed near Besmaya, which is “a military base hosting US-led coalition and NATO troops.”
Also in Iraq: The U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS pulled out of a base near the border with Syria, at Al Qaim, U.S. Central Command announced Tuesday. Find video of the cleanup and departure efforts, here.
And in eastern Syria, where about 600 or so American troops remain, the U.S. military added M777 howitzers “to reinforce American troops increasingly under mortar attack by drones,” Fox’s Lucas Tomlinson reported Tuesday morning on Twitter.
In a new first, the U.S. Air Force could soon have its first female Special Tactics Officer, Oriana Pawlyk reported Tuesday at Military.com. "She has successfully completed the Special Tactics/Guardian Angel Assessment and Selection Course, the first course for STOs within the Special Warfare Training Wing, and she is now awaiting the Pre-Dive Course," spokesman for Air Force Special Operations Command said on Monday. "As such, she has proceeded farther in the pipeline than any female pursuing Pararescue, Combat Control, Special Reconnaissance, Special Tactics Officer or Combat Rescue Officer specialties.” More here.
To the uninitiated, there’s a new name to know in the world of Mexican cartels, AP reports today from Mexico City. The Jalisco New Generation gang is now the country's "fastest-rising cartel." And the group's goal is nothing other than to be the only cartel in the region — a title many other cartels before them have sought but discovered to be as elusive as the mythical city of El Dorado.
A more immediate problem for Mexican authorities is Jalisco’s ability to acquire weapons. "Jalisco so likes violence and heavy armament," AP writes, "that U.S. prosecutors said its operatives tried to buy belt-fed M-60 machine guns in the United States, and once brought down a Mexican military helicopter with a rocket-propelled grenade." The group’s members seem to love military camouflage and they even “welded thick armor plating to a truck to make a homemade tank.”
Jalisco’s also pushing propaganda to noticeable effect as well, AP reports. "They hang banners from overpasses announcing their arrival, offering cash rewards for enemies and threatening police. They post videos on social media, usually with a few dozen heavily-armed, camouflage-clad men with helmets in the background, announcing they have come to 'clean up the town.'" Read on for more about the group’s efforts “to branch out into new regions of the world,” here.
For something completely different: An old German military laptop (it weighed 11 pounds) sold on eBay in late 2019 still had classified information about the Ozelot missile system that’s still in use by the Bundeswehr, the New York Times reported Tuesday. According to the purchaser, a 500-person company called G Data CyberDefense, “We bought it purely out of curiosity.”
ICYMI, “In July, a Bavarian forest ranger found a classified manual for the mobile rocket artillery unit ‘Mars’ on one of four laptops he had bought.” The German defense ministry is investigating, spokeswoman Nadine Krüger said Tuesday. More, here.
And finally today: A storied infantry division of National Guard soldiers from WWII was just awarded the Presidential Unit Citation “for extraordinary heroism at the Battle of Mortain, France, in 1944,” the White House and the National Guard announced Tuesday.
“The 30th Infantry Division, nicknamed ‘Old Hickory’ after President Andrew Jackson, was a National Guard unit comprised mostly of men from North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee,” the National Guard noted in its announcement. “The division landed at Omaha Beach in Normandy days after D-Day and was immediately ordered into combat to defend key locations from the Nazi counterattack. Mortain was one of those locations, in Normandy.”
As the White House describes it, “More than 75 years ago, Soldiers of the 30th Infantry Division slept in their foxholes after hastily taking defensive positions around the small town of Mortain, France. They woke to find themselves under attack by an entire German Panzer Corps. Through this assault, Adolf Hitler gambled to keep American forces from breaking out of the Normandy beachhead and into the open countryside. The Nazi plan required the Panzer forces to cut through the 30th Infantry Division en route to the sea. However, the actions of the 30th Infantry Division would prove to be decisive in blunting this attack.” Read on, here. Or watch a video tribute to the unit, from the NG’s YouTube page, here.