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US to send 3,000 troops to Ebola danger zone as Obama administration shuffles military’s mission in Africa

The United States government is sending thousands of military troops to the west African nation of Liberia as part of the Obama administration’s Ebola virus-response strategy, the White House said late Monday night.’U.S. Africa Command will set up a Joint Force Command headquartered in Monrovia, Liberia, to provide regional command and control support to U.S. military activities and facilitate coordination with U.S. government and international relief efforts,’ a statement from the White House press office said.’A general from U.S. Army Africa, the Army component of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), will lead this effort, which will involve an estimated 3,000 U.S. forces.’Liberia is the hardest-hit of the four west African nations that have confirmed Ebola cases, accounting for more than one-half of the fatalities. The others are Sierra Leone, Guinea and, to a lesser extent, Nigeria.

Some of what America’s armed personnel will do in Liberia is unclear. The White House said ‘many’ of them will be stationed at an ‘intermediate staging base’ where they will supervise the movement of medical staff, supplies and heavy equipment.  AFRICOM already warns its own personnel that they should ‘avoid nonessential travel to Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia.’And the Defense Department is concerned, one Pentagon official told MailOnline, about the public perceptions aroused when American G.I.s patrol ground zero in a disease outbreak that could plunge three or more countries into chaos if it worsens significantly.Combat soldiers and Marines ‘will be on hand and ready for anything,’ said the official, who has knowledge of some, but not all, of the Ebola-related planning. ‘But hopefully it will be all logistics and hospital-building.”The president has ordered us to help, and we’re eager to do it,’ he said. ‘Now it looks like we’re going to be the lead dog, and that’s bound to make a lot of people nervous. It’s understandable.”But no one wants U.S. personnel enforcing someone else’s martial law if things go south and the entire region is at risk.’

‘At this point in a response like this, we would normally play a support role for USAID and the CDC,’ he said, referring to the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.The official spoke on condition of anonymity. The Fox News Channel reported on Sunday that the U.S. military’s emphasis on Ebola prevention, driven by President Barack Obama, has stretched thin most if not all of its other missions.A senior military official told Fox that General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a recent meeting that ‘the Department of Defense’s number one priority is combating Ebola.’The network’s source commented that ‘we don’t need to be taking planners away from the CT [counter-terrorism] mission, and that is what is going on.’Defense spending is down 21 per cent since 2010, the first fiscal year for which the Obama administration presided over the federal budget.But the president is insisting that the military carry much of the burden in Africa.

In a Sept. 7 interview on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press,’ he called it a ‘national security priority.”If we don’t make that effort now, and this spreads not just through Africa, but other parts of the world, there’s the prospect then that the virus mutates, it becomes more easily transmittable, and then it could be a serious danger to the United States,” said Obama.White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest fielded questions Monday about the threat that a mutated Ebola virus could endanger the American population.’Right now,’ Earnest said, ‘the risk of an Ebola outbreak in the United States is very low. But that risk would only increase if there were not a robust response on the part of the United States.”And that’s why the president – among other things – that’s one of the things that’s motivating the president to direct an aggressive response.’ Obama will visit the CDC in Atlanta on Tuesday for a situation update, and to give a public speech about the need to regard Africa’s public health crisis as a threat to the United States. Earnest’s office said Monday night that military engineers would be on hand in Liberia to build makeshift hospitals, and that the American government ‘will help recruit and organize medical personnel to staff them.’ The Pentagon has also committed to construct and staff at least one 25-bed ‘field-deployable hospital,’ in Liberia, but The Washington Post reported last week that it will treat only infected health care workers – not civilian victims of the outbreak.

The U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps will send 65 administrators, clinicians and support staff to run the facility.That’s a change from a week ago, when Army Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, told Reuters that the military would turn the field hospital over to the Liberian government after it was built.’No U.S. personnel right now will be providing patient care,’ Col. Warren said on Sept. 8. We are deploying the hospital facility, setting it up, stockpiling it. We’ll turn it over to the government of Liberia and then the DoD (Defense Department) personnel will depart,” he said.The World Health Organization says the current Ebola Virus Disease outbreak, a form of hemorrhagic fever, has infected more than 4,900 west Africans and killed at least 2,400, mostly in Liberia.The State Department purchased a shipment of 5,000 body bags for its USAID mission in Liberia last month. USAID is also procuring up to 160,000 hazmat suits for medical workers. The White House aid Monday night that USAID will soon airlift 130,000 of those ‘sets of personal protective equipment’ to health care workers in affected countries.

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