With the military under broad pressure to step up its coronavirus response, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper has defended the firing of an aircraft carrier commander who sought help for sailors during an outbreak as a matter of holding leaders “accountable”. He also said the matter was under review.
In two television interviews, Mr Esper said acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly made a “very tough decision” last Thursday to oust Capt Brett Crozier of command of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, which was docked in Guam, and that he supported the decision.
“It was based on his view that he had lost faith and confidence in the captain, based on his actions. It was supported by Navy leadership,” Mr Esper said.
Still, the Pentagon chief declined to explicitly say he agreed with Mr Modly’s assessment, noting that there is “an investigation ongoing”.
“This could ultimately come to my desk,” he said.
“I think Secretary Modly laid out very reasonably, very deliberately the reasons why.
“And I think, when all those facts come to bear, we will have a chance to understand why Secretary Modly did what he did.”
Capt Crozier circulated a memo to Navy leaders last week that was obtained by news media in which he urged speedy action to evacuate the ship of nearly 5,000 sailors as the coronavirus began to escalate.
Mr Modly said Capt Crozier “demonstrated extremely poor judgment” in the middle of a crisis, although Navy officials later announced they would offload 2700 sailors in the coming days.
Videos went viral on social media over the weekend, showing hundreds of sailors gathered on the ship chanting and applauding Capt Crozier on Thursday as he walked off the vessel, turned, saluted, waved and got into a waiting car.
His firing comes amid pressure on the military as it seeks to step up its response to the coronavirus outbreak, including sending two Navy hospital ships in New York and Los Angeles.
On Sunday (local time), Mr Esper said the Pentagon was sending over 1100 additional doctors, nurses and other medical staff to New York as part of a COVID-19 operation that would have the military in charge of “the largest hospital in the United States”, with 2500 beds at the Jacob Javits convention centre
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