US military indefinitely suspends two training exercises with South Korea
Pentagon to send three-star general to coordinate Puerto Rico relief efforts
The military command in charge of aid and restoration efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands announced Thursday it would send a three-star general to coordinate the government's response to the devastated U.S. territories.
U.S. Northern Command (Northcom) is sending Army Lt. Gen. Jeff Buchanan, head of Northcom's Joint Force Land Component Command, to serve as the Pentagon's primary liaison to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
"Lt. Gen. Buchanan is scheduled to arrive later today in Puerto Rico and is expected to link with FEMA and Puerto Rico officials to lead U.S. Northern Command's efforts in response and recovery," Northcom said in a statement.
Navy Rear Adm. Jeffrey Hughes had been the senior officer leading Northcom's efforts in support of FEMA.
Also on Thursday, Deputy Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan pledged to Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló that the Pentagon "will stay aligned with FEMA's plan to stabilize the situation and sustain life in Puerto Rico."
Speaking to Rosselló by phone, Shanahan "made clear supporting the territory's citizens is a top priority, and [the Department of Defense] will deploy all needed resources to do so," according to a Pentagon statement on the call.
The Pentagon has been steadily increasing its help to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands after both territories were slammed by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in the past month.
The storms killed at least 16 people in Puerto Rico and knocked out power on the entire island, which has a population of nearly 3.5 million people.
The Pentagon on Wednesday also sent U.S. Army North deputy commanding general Brig. Gen. Rich Kim to Puerto Rico to establish a military headquarters.
Buchanan's and Kim's deployments are meant to help the Defense Department transition "from a short-term, sea-based response to a predominantly land-based effort," according to Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Jamie Davis.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said the appointment of Buchanan "should have happened sooner" but praised it as "an important step toward ensuring that every resource possible is deployed to help our fellow Americans."
"The scope and scale of the damage caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria has overwhelmed commonwealth, territorial, and local governments," Hoyer said in a statement.
"It is critical that the Defense Department take on a larger role and apply its expertise in handling complex logistics, search-and-rescue, and engineering missions," he said.
Hoyer also called for Congress to "consider emergency legislation to provide additional funding to help our fellow citizens impacted by the storms recover and rebuild."
President Trump's homeland security adviser, Tom Bossert, meanwhile, said the White House will request emergency supplemental funding from Congress to help Puerto Rico.
Congress earlier on Thursday released nearly $7 billion in funds to FEMA to respond to the island and the U.S. Gulf region.
"We're going to go back for more and ask for that in the form of an emergency supplemental to provide money into the fund that does this life-sustaining effort and even some of the early recovery efforts," Bossert said during a press briefing at the White House.