US to send military hospital ship to region as Venezuela crisis grows

US to send military hospital ship to region as Venezuela crisis grows
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The U.S. military will deploy a Navy hospital ship to South America in response to the worsening humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, officials announced Tuesday.

The Pentagon will send the USNS Comfort – the same ship sent last year to care for Venezuelan refugees in Central and South America – as “part of ongoing planning that we are doing here in the department,” acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanEsper's chief of staff to depart at end of January Defense chief calls on European allies to be wary of China's investments, blasts Russia Pentagon chief approves 20 more miles of border wall MORE said.

“It’s been a very fluid situation,” Shanahan told reporters prior to meeting with Colombia’s vice president, Marta Lucía Ramírez.


The Pentagon said in a separate statement Tuesday that the ship is scheduled to deploy in June from Naval Station Norfolk, Va., to the Caribbean, Central America and South America for a five-month humanitarian mission.

The ship will “conduct humanitarian medical assistance missions in support of regional partners and in response to the regional impacts of the Venezuela political and economic crisis," the statement said.

The mission will have U.S. military medical personnel working “alongside partners to provide medical assistance to communities based on needs identified by host-nation health ministries, and help relieve pressure on host nation medical systems in countries hosting Venezuelans who have fled the country's crisis,” the statement added.

Countries hosting the Comfort during the mission will be announced later, officials said.

Shanahan said he “spent the better part of Friday being very well coordinated on our plans within the U.S. government as well as making adjustments” on plans to send the ship, which he discussed at length with U.S. Southern Command chief Adm. Craig Faller.

Shanahan met with Faller as well as national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonRomney: 'It's very likely I'll be in favor of witnesses' in Trump impeachment trial George Conway: Witness missing from impeachment trial is Trump Democrats see Mulvaney as smoking gun witness at Trump trial MORE and Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoSenate Dems to Pompeo: Comments about NPR reporter 'insulting and contemptuous' Washington Post: Pompeo 'gaslighting' NPR reporter Pompeo lashes out at 'shameful' NPR reporter MORE at the Pentagon on Friday to discuss the situation in Venezuela.

The meeting raised speculation about possible U.S. military intervention in the region as Bolton last week signaled support for such a move to oust embattled President Nicolás Maduro.

Administration officials hoped that Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó would be able to topple the current regime, with Guaidó last week rallying supporters to the streets and calling for the country’s military to oust Maduro. The effort has so far been unsuccessful.

The United States last sent the Comfort to the region in October for an 11-week mission to treat refugees in Central and South America. The 1,000-bed ship, meant to help relieve medical systems in countries where Venezuelans are fleeing to amid the crisis, returned stateside in December.

Shanahan said the meeting on Tuesday with Colombian officials would include discussions “about Maduro’s military,” as well as illicit drug activity humanitarian conditions to be put in place in the future.

“The message I want to make sure comes across is that we are very well coordinated and disciplined and have a broad set of contingency plans,” he said. “I think we’ll do some good coordination and communication today to kind of validate the work that’s in front of us.”

Asked if there are any other military options on the table for Venezuela besides the Comfort, Shanahan replied, “It’s a full table.”