Four coalition troops in Afghanistan test positive for coronavirus

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Four service members in the U.S.-led NATO coalition in Afghanistan have tested positive for coronavirus, officials announced Tuesday, marking the first confirmed cases among service members in the war-torn country.

Operation Resolute Support did not identify the nationalities of those who tested positive, saying that information is being withheld “pending release from the appropriate national authorities.”

“The service members were newly arrived in country and were in a precautionary screening facility when they became symptomatic, were moved to isolation and were tested,” Resolute Support said in a statement.

“We have taken the necessary precautions to identify and quarantine any personnel these four service members may have been in contact with,” the statement added.

Last week, the top U.S. general in Afghanistan, Scott Miller, announced measures Resolute Support is taking to prevent the spread of coronavirus among troops stationed there.

Among the steps, the coalition has paused deployments into the country, and in turn, some planned troop departures.

Other steps include using technology to conduct meetings rather than doing them in person and limiting base access to essential personnel.

As of Tuesday, 38 Resolute Support personnel are exhibiting flu-symptoms and are in isolation and receiving medical care, the statement said.

There is no lab to analyze coronavirus tests for troops in Afghanistan, so samples must be flown to a U.S. military testing facility in Germany or other certified civilian testing facilities.

About 1,500 service members and civilians, most of whom just arrived in Afghanistan or returned from leave, are in quarantine “out of an abundance of caution, not because they are sick,” the statement added.

“Resolute Support is implementing every available control measure to prevent the spread of the virus,” the statement said. “We are closely monitoring, continually assessing and adjusting our operations so we can continue to protect our force — while protecting the national interests of NATO allies and partners here in Afghanistan.”

Afghanistan has reported 42 confirmed cases of coronavirus, including one death. But testing there is extremely limited, with just one lab able to analyze tests for the entire country.

The border with Iran, where more than 24,000 people have tested positive for the virus, also continues to be porous.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an unannounced trip to Afghanistan on Monday in an effort to revive the stalled peace process and settle a dispute between Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his rival, Abdullah Abdullah.

After failing to convince Ghani and Abdullah to end their feud, Pompeo announced the United States would cut $1 billion in assistance to Afghanistan. 

But, insisting that the U.S. is not abandoning the people of Afghanistan, Pompeo also said it would provide $15 million to help combat the spread of the coronavirus there.

Tags Afghanistan Coronavirus Mike Pompeo War in Afghanistan
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