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Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper issued a warning to American military commanders overseas to not make any decisions concerning the coronavirus that may go against President Trump’s messaging on the growing health crisis, The New York Times reported. 

During a video teleconference call with combatant commanders around the world last week, Esper reiterated Trump’s efforts to manage public fears over the disease, saying they should check in before making decisions related to protecting their troops, according to people familiar with the briefing.

Gen. Robert B. Abrams, the commander of American forces in South Korea, where more than 4,000 coronavirus cases have been documented, discussed his options to protect military personnel against the virus. Esper said he wanted advance notice in response. 

“Commanders of individually affected commands have all the authority they need, and will provide specific guidance to their troops as the situation continues to evolve,” Esper said. “My No. 1 priority remains to protect our forces and their families.”

Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reportedly said the Defense Department was planning for all possible scenarios related to the disease, such as the possibility of it becoming a global pandemic.

The American military has more than 75,000 troops stationed in countries that are experiencing outbreaks, including South Korea, Japan, Bahrain, and Italy. Several bases are located next to cities where the coronavirus is spreading, and many of those bases employ civilian workers. 

An American soldier in South Korea tested positive for the virus last week, the military’s first active-duty case.

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