A public health emergency due to COVID-19 has been declared for several thousand U.S. troops spread across the Djibouti base cluster which houses thousands of American service members.

U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Michael D. Turello, commander of Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, declared a public health emergency Thursday for American forces under his command spread across the Djibouti base cluster, CJTF-HOA announced in a release.

The public health emergency applies to defense personnel, contractors and U.S. troops spread across Camp Lemonnier Djibouti, Chabelley Airfield and the port of Djibouti, the release detailed

Camp Lemonnier is the largest U.S. installation in Africa, which houses roughly 3,000 American troops. There are roughly 6,000 U.S. troops across the AFRICOM area of responsibility, according to details in an inspector general report released in February.

“Combating COVID-19 is my top priority,” Turello said in the release. “By declaring a public health emergency, it keeps our forces, and those of our host nation partner, as healthy and as safe as possible.”

The announcement of the public health emergency raises questions about the readiness of forward deployed U.S. forces in the AFRICOM theater of operation as Djibouti represents the largest concentration of American troops in the region.

But Maj. Karl Wiest, a spokesman for AFRICOM, said there has only been one case of COVID-19 in Djibouti, and that was a contractor. However, there are no current COVID-19 cases across the Djibouti base cluster.

AFRICOM told Military Times it does not see a readiness issue.

Wiest said the declaration by CJTF-HOA commander was “strictly a precautionary measure to increase our ability to control the appropriate movement of all personnel at the right time to the right places.”

AFRICOM has been busy as of late combating a resurgent al-Qaida linked militant group known as al-Shabab across East Africa. Shabab has launched a couple of brazen raids over the last eight months targeting bases housing U.S. forces.

A raid by Shabab on the Manda Bay, Kenya, base in early January resulted in the death of one U.S. service members. The raid was beaten back by Marine Raiders.

“This preventive measure factors in our mission responsibilities as well as the health of our force and Djiboutian partners,” Turello said in the release. “We are doing our part to contain the virus and minimize its impact. This is how we work in the current environment.”

The public health emergency is effective for 30 days. Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa said it will work with interagency and host nation partners to determine whether to extend the declaration, the release detailed.

Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.

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