WASHINGTON — This year’s hurricane season and the ensuing relief effort by the U.S. military to Puerto Rico and the Caribbean will cause a delay in deployments of U.S. forces to Afghanistan, according to Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the Joint Staff director.
“There are going to be delays,” McKenzie told reporters at a televised Pentagon press briefing on Thursday. “I think the delays are relatively minor.”
Efforts to relieve suffering and return the area to normal have absorbed a lot of U.S. military assets.
Puerto Rico is a difficult technical problem, McKenzie explained to reporters. To get equipment and supplies requires a significant amount of commercial, naval, and military transport capabilities, he added.
The storm that slammed Puerto Rico “was a pretty significant event,” he said.
But assisting fellow U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico was made a high priority by the Pentagon.
“The department has been very aggressive in supporting FEMA,” McKenize said.
Currently, there are nearly 11,000 active and guard troops and 80 tilt-rotor and rotary wing aircraft supporting relief efforts on Puerto Rico, according to Dana White, the Pentagon chief spokeswoman.
Furthermore, Defense Department efforts have helped deliver tons of supplies to include generators, cots, food and 5.8 million liters of water, White told reporters.
Moreover, the hospital ship Comfort arrived on Tuesday, which houses more than 250 hospital beds to assist relief efforts with pediatric and trauma care.
The U.S. also is assisting other Caribbean islands impacted by hurricanes Maria and Irma.
Delivering all these relief efforts uses up a lot of military transport capability, “that will inevitably slow” deployments of troops, McKenzie said.
“There’s a finite number of transport aircraft,” McKenzie said, explaining why the relief efforts would result in delays deploying troops downrange.
Earlier this week, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis told Capitol Hill lawmakers that deployments of troops could be delayed into next year.
When pressed by reporters today, McKenzie said he believed Mattis was discussing global troop deployments, not just Afghanistan.
McKenzie described the delays in deploying U.S. forces to Afghanistan as minor.
There are roughly 11,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. This August the Trump administration pushed its new South Asia strategy, which called for the deployment of roughly 3,500 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan.