- The Washington Times - Friday, March 20, 2020

U.S. troops in Europe are preparing for the “worst-case scenario” as the coronavirus spreads across the continent, military leaders said Friday.

Gen. Tod D. Wolters, commander of U.S. European Command, said there are about 35 reported cases among American military personnel stationed in Europe.

But with the virus spreading quickly across the region and with countries such as Italy, France, Spain and others facing grave situations, the outlook for U.S. forces could deteriorate rapidly.

“We are preparing for worst-case scenarios with respect to the potential spread,” he told reporters via telephone on Friday morning.

Pressed on what that could mean, Gen. Wolters said the worst-case scenario to him would be when coronavirus compromises the U.S. mission in Europe to the point he must “go outside the forces I currently command” for help.

Still, Gen. Wolters stressed that U.S. forces in Europe remain fully prepared and that so far the virus has not impacted military readiness.

“As we currently sit, based off the trajectory of the virus spreading across Europe, we’re in a position … to be able to sustain the current readiness posture we have,” he said.

U.S. forces in Europe already have made major adjustments as a result of the virus. The Pentagon this week dramatically scaled back the planned Defender Europe 20 military exercise, which would’ve been the largest military drill on the continent since the Cold War.

More than 20,000 American personnel were scheduled to take part in the exercise, though strict travel restrictions on troops have kept that number closer to 6,000. Several key aspects of the exercise were canceled, though Gen. Wolters said the countries involved have learned valuable lessons and that the planning and cooperation involved in planning the initiative made it worthwhile.

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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