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DOD curtailing multinational exercise in Africa amid coronavirus

The Pentagon is scaling back a multinational military exercise in Africa amid concerns over the coronavirus.

Military leaders from the United States, Morocco, Tunisia and Senegal “will modify the size and scope of African Lion to minimize exposure of U.S. and partner nation service members to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19),” U.S. Africa Command said in a Tuesday statement.

African Lion, set to start March 23 and involve nearly 7,000 tons of military equipment and 9,000 troops — including more than 4,000 U.S. service members from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps — is Africom’s largest exercise on the continent.

The exercise will now include only portions that do not require troops to lodge together in close quarters, as well as an academic portion which has already begun.

“The safety and protection of all of our forces — U.S. and partner nation — is a priority,” Africom head Gen. Stephen Townsend said in the statement.

“Modifying the exercise still improves readiness while minimizing risk to protect both U.S. and partner forces. While the scope of the exercise will adjust, our commitment to our African partners endures,” he added.         

The decision to alter the size and scope of African Lion was made after several weeks of monitoring the global spread of coronavirus, according to the release.

“It was a decision that was made by the combatant commander, in conjunction with the host countries … that we were going to reduce our effort,” top Department of Defense (DOD) spokesman Jonathan Hoffman told reporters at the Pentagon later on Tuesday.

“Part of it is, we’ve got to look at how are people getting there. Are they traveling en masse? Are they traveling commercially? Where are they transiting through? Where are they going to go afterward? How long are they there for? Is the value of a shorter exercise worth it if, on the back end, they may have a 14-day quarantine versus a longer exercise where the value may come out?”

Several members of the military have tested positive or may have been exposed to the coronavirus, and on Monday, Pentagon officials said the department is taking steps to control the spread of the virus in the building, including “social distancing” and wiping down workspaces.

DOD also announced on Tuesday that Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: Pompeo calls spike in Afghan violence ‘unacceptable’ | Concerns grow over Taliban peace deal | Military screening recruits for coronavirus Pompeo: Increase in Afghanistan violence after deal with Taliban ‘unacceptable’ Esper says he asked commanders for ‘a heads up’ on major coronavirus decisions, but denies NY Times story MORE is postponing a trip abroad “out of an abundance of caution” to lead the Pentagon’s response to the illness.

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