WASHINGTON – The Defense Department's response to the hurricane disaster in Puerto Rico is slowing the deployment of some U.S. forces to Afghanistan and other missions around the world, including a Navy ship that was headed to the waters around the Korean peninsula, Pentagon officials said Thursday.
Lt. Gen. Ken McKenzie, director of the military's Joint Staff, said there is only a "finite number" of transport aircraft and they've been tied up delivering aid and forces to Puerto Rico.
He said those limitations are causing a slight delay in the flow of forces into Afghanistan and will likely slow the movement of the USS Wasp to the Pacific.
"There are going to be delays. I think the delays are relatively minor," said McKenzie during a Pentagon briefing. "The secretary said we're all in to help Puerto Rico. And there are just going to be downstream effects when you make those decisions."
The USS Wasp, an amphibious assault ship, arrived off Puerto Rico on Wednesday with 13 helicopters to support the ongoing relief effort, which includes supporting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the repair of the Guajataca Dam.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told Congress the hurricane response could affect deployments into next year because it has interrupted their preparation time.
McKenzie suggested the longer delay could refer to the Wasp, and the cascading effect the delay in Puerto Rico could have on its plans to sail into the Pacific.
Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White added that Mattis has signed deployment orders for troops going to Afghanistan and some have been flowing in. At least 3,500 additional forces are expected to go into the country to help train and advise Afghan forces. There are currently about 11,000 U.S. troops there.
Asked what the delays say about the capabilities of the U.S. military, McKenzie said the department's response to Puerto Rico has been significant. He said deployment dalys shouldn't be interpreted as suggesting the military is "unhealthy."