WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is most likely to use sea-based assets for any initial military strike in Venezuela but would have to shift capabilities if called upon to extract U.S. diplomatic personnel, officials said Thursday.
The U.S. does not have any permanent military facilities in South America, other than a medical research site in Peru. The closest bases are in Puerto Rico, roughly 600 miles from Venezuela or about 90 minutes flight time one-way.
Pentagon officials said the plans for Venezuela were being formulated by the National Security Council. Officials there did not provide comment on request.
The Trump administration recognized Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as that nation’s interim president on Wednesday. That move prompted Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to break diplomatic relations with the United States and order U.S. diplomats to leave with 72 hours.
So far, the White House has not said if the diplomats will leave.
The Navy’s 2nd fleet is based in the north Atlantic, centered around the aircraft carrier strike force headed by USS George H.W. Bush, the newest carrier in the Navy.
As of Thursday, 76 ships are deployed worldwide in the entire battle force including forward-deployed submarines, the Navy said.
On Thursday, the State Department announced that the United States will provide more than $20 million in initial humanitarian assistance to Venezuela citizens “as they struggle to cope with severe food and medicine shortages and the other dire impacts of their country’s political and economic crisis caused by the illegitimate Maduro regime,” according to a news release.
The last U.S. military face in the region was the USNS Comfort hospital ship. It spent 11 weeks visiting South and Central American nations last fall, helping to provide medical care. Among those treated were Venezuelan refugees, who crossed into neighboring nations seeking medical treatment, the Pentagon said last year.