USS Wasp delays deployment to Pacific to continue relief efforts in Puerto Rico
By STEPHEN CARLSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 5, 2017
WASHINGTON — USS Wasp, an amphibious assault ship, will delay its deployment to the Pacific as it continues relief operations in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, Defense Department officials said Thursday.
Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie told reporters at the Pentagon that operations in Puerto Rico could also cause delays for deployments of other ships and troops around the world.
“[Hurricane relief efforts] may have a cascading effect,” he said.
McKenzie confirmed during the news briefing that the Wasp was expected to take on F-35 Lightning II fighter jets during its deployment to the Pacific.
But he also downplayed reports that hurricane relief efforts were slowing the deployment of forces to Afghanistan due to shortages of transport aircraft. He said the number U.S. troops in Afghanistan still stood at roughly 11,000.
“Forces continue to flow into Afghanistan, they have been slightly delayed by hurricane efforts. I’m not going to characterize those delays in any further way, but forces continue to flow, it will take some time to build up forces in Afghanistan,” McKenzie said.
The U.S. military has more than 11,000 personnel in Puerto Rico along with more than 80 helicopters and the Wasp and USNS Comfort, a hospital ship.
Hurricane Maria, which struck Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, caused widespread flooding and devastated the island’s roads and power grid. There has been widespread shortages of necessities such as water, food, and medical care due to the destruction of the U.S. territory’s infrastructure.
At least 34 people have been confirmed dead from the effects of the storm and it’s chaotic aftermath.
The U.S. military has been heavily involved in relief efforts in recent weeks, responding to disasters in Texas, Florida and much of the Caribbean caused by hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.