The Pentagon on Wednesday appeared to downplay any active planning to directly intervene in Venezuela to topple President Nicolas Maduro, telling Congress it had not been given orders to prepare for war and stressing support for diplomacy.
Asked whether the U.S. military had been given instructions to ready itself for a military conflict, perhaps by prepositioning troops, Kathryn Wheelbarger, the accting assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, said: "We, of course, always review available options and plan for contingencies.
"But in this case we have not been given (the) sort of orders that you're discussing, no," Wheelbarger told the House Armed Services Committee.
U.S. Navy Admiral Craig Faller, commander of U.S. Southern Command, which oversees U.S. forces in Latin America, said past planning included preparing for potential non-combatant evacuations and helping deliver U.S. humanitarian aid but stressed that his top focus in the region was building partnerships
When asked if he saw a role for the U.S. military in actually overthrowing Maduro's government, Faller said: "Our leadership's been clear: It has to be, should be, primarily a democratic transition.
"We are in total support of the diplomacy and we stand ready to support that effort."
POSSIBLE MILITARY ACTION
The remarks came hours after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States was prepared to take military action to stem the turmoil in Venezuela.
"Military action is possible. If that's what's required, that's what the United States will do," Pompeo said on Fox Business Network, even as he reiterated that the United States would prefer a peaceful transition of power.
The Trump administration has consistently stressed that U.S. military options could be considered and none of the U.S. defense officials ruled out such a possibility.
Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan canceled a planned trip to Europe on Wednesday, in part to help coordinate with the White House National Security Council and State Department on Venezuela, the Pentagon said.
The announcement came as the National Security Council scheduled a meeting for Wednesday afternoon to discuss next steps on the political turmoil inVenezuela.
The top uniformed U.S. military officer, Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the U.S. military was focused on gathering intelligence on the situation in Venezuela and be prepared to respond if Trump requested greater action.
"The situation is a little bit unclear today from our perspective between Maduro and Guaido," Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford said during a Congressional hearing, referring to Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido.
"We are doing what we can now to collect intelligence and make sure we have good visibility on what is happening down in Venezuela and also be prepared to support the President should he require more from the U.S. military," Dunford said.
He did not provide details on what more the U.S. military could do.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now