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4-star general will command US if government is crippled by coronavirus: 'Standby orders have already been issued'

Gen. Terrence J. O'Shaughnessy is the "combatant commander" for the United States and would lead the country if the top political leaders at the helm of the country were affected by COVID-19
UPDATED MAR 22, 2020
Terrence J. O'Shaughnessy (Getty Images)
Terrence J. O'Shaughnessy (Getty Images)

The United States military planners are reportedly looking at "extraordinary circumstances" amid the coronavirus crisis in the country and are preparing for a range of radical scenarios, including deaths of top politicians and widespread domestic violence. Standby orders were reportedly issued over three weeks ago to prepare Above-Top Secret contingency plans if "all Constitutional successors are incapacitated" and martial law needs to be instated, according to a report released by Newsweek.

One senior military officer, on conditions of anonymity, told the outlet: "We're in new territory." The deadly novel coronavirus has claimed over 300 lives in the country and has infected over 24,000 people across the region, with the cases and deaths rapidly increasing.

Reports state that Gen. Terrence J. O'Shaughnessy is the "combatant commander" for the United States and would lead the country if the top political leaders at the helm of the country were affected by COVID-19. The 55-year-old four-star general is a Canadian-born command pilot who moved to America at the age of four. He graduated from the United States Air Force Academy in 1986 and was previously the Deputy Commander for the United Nations Command in Korea. 

U.S. Lieutenant General Terrence J. O'Shaughnessy, deputy Commander of the U.S. Forces Korea, speaks in front of a U.S. F-16 fighter jet during a press briefing on the flight by a U.S. B-52 Stratofortress over South Korea at Osan Air Base on January 10, 2016 in Pyeongtaek, South Korea. (Getty Images)

Gen. O'Shaughnessy is currently the Commander of NORTHCOM, a military authority formulated in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. NORTHCOM's aim is to defend "America's homeland — protecting our people, national power, and freedom of action." The organization operates only in assistance to the government and other civil authorities and is charged with dozens of secret assignments, which include protecting the President, Vice President and the Secretary of Defence. 

Although it seems unlikely that martial law could be imposed in the country, however, if it were to happen, the law would only be a temporary measure until a new civilian leader is instated to head the country. 

U.S. President Donald Trump (R) leads a meeting with the White House Coronavirus Task Force and pharmaceutical executives in Cabinet Room of the White House on March 2, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Getty Images)

Authorities, at the moment, however, are discussing how and when the armed forces and its reserves would be allowed to exercise "emergency authority," particularly if violence breaks out across the country due to food shortages, financial troubles, and other chaos caused by widespread infections. President Donald Trump, on Friday,  declared New York State as a major disaster area, while NYC mayor Bill de Blasio declared the city as the epicenter of the US outbreak. The US military will now be called in the city with the US Army Corps of Engineers saying that they plan to take over hotels, sports arenas, college dorms, and other buildings in an attempt to bolster the number of available hospital rooms.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon is also taking stringent actions to ensure that the defense department is not affected amid the rapidly-evolving crisis. The officials, in recent days, have implemented a ban on nearly all overseas travel for military personnel for 60 days. They have also issued guidance to keep "all uniformed personnel on or near military bases," the outlet reported. 

"In scenarios where one city or one region is devastated, there's a pretty straightforward process," one military planned told Newsweek. "But with coronavirus, where the effect is nationwide, we're in a territory we've never been in before."