By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (April 16, 2020) -- Two harmful things are spreading across the globe now: the coronavirus and disinformation. The commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Europe says they're working to conquer both.
"As military forces, we have an obligation to be truthful, timely and accurate in what we say and what we do," Air Force Gen. Tod D. Wolters, commander of U.S. European Command and NATO's supreme allied commander for Europe, said during a telephone news conference today.
"That's exactly what we continue to do here from a U.S. perspective, and certainly from a European perspective," he added. "It's part of our democratic value system. Transparency is vital right now. Neutralizing misinformation and delivering accurate and truthful facts is paramount. Our partnership and trust with one another is steadfast."
As medical goods have been moved among NATO nations, Wolters said, Russia has inserted itself into the conversation, downplaying the value of those transactions. "That in itself is a form of disinformation," the general said.
At the same time, he said, the news media have also reported that goods Russia has delivered to European nations have been "flawed."
"What we owe our citizens is to ensure that we tell the truth," Wolters said. "We want to make sure that we continue to stick with our democratic values and stay very, very laser-focused on the facts so that our forces understand exactly what we're doing, and anybody that attempts to provide malign influence to our forces must understand that we're in the business of passing on the facts, not falsehoods."
Wolters said part of countering disinformation is recognizing when it's happening -- to have a "sensing system" in place that recognizes those falsehoods and is prepared to counter them. Another part, he said, is deterring that disinformation. And that, he said, starts with leadership and military personnel.
"That has to do with your field commanders and your operators and your maintainers and your mission supporters and your medical specialists understanding what it is their forces are effectively doing to improve health and to improve our ability to deter and defend," he said.
Wolters said he's asked uniformed military members to be knowledgeable and equipped to speak honestly about their accomplishments.
"That in itself is telling the truth, and it's part of more effective deterrence and defense," he said.
When it comes to helping to defeat COVID-19 in Europe, Wolters said, Eucom has provided for more than $500,000 in essential equipment and medical supplies from Defense Department stocks in Italy alone.
"We've leveraged long-standing bilateral relationships to coordinate access to supplies in Luxembourg," he said. "Under NATO's lead, we've joined with allies to lift much-needed medical supplies from the Pacific to Romania."
Last week, he said, President Donald J. Trump authorized contributions of $4.7 million to fund locally procured personal protective equipment.
The general also said Eucom is executing 10 "quick reaction" projects that are delivering $150,000 in personnel protective equipment to eight different locations on the continent, with eight more projects in the works.
"None of these events would have been possible without the trust and confidence and coordination between allies and partners," he said. "This is proof that the alliance remains ready and capable to support one another in these tough, tough times of need."