Military Capabilities

US military decreasing Ebola response force size

13 November 2014

The US military has determined it can send fewer personnel to Liberia to aid in treating a West African Ebola outbreak after officials determined the virus is spreading slower and local assistance capacity is better.

Operation 'Unified Assistance' is likely to now only include 3,000 US troops rather than 4,000 as previously expected, Major General Gary Volesky, commander of the Operation Unified Assistance Joint Task Force, told Pentagon reporters via teleconference on 12 November.

There are still "new cases every single day" so the US Army, US Department of State, and US Agency for International Development (USAID) are continuing to build treatment units, preparing to sustain those units, and training healthcare workers, said Maj Gen Volesky.

Currently, there are just under 2,200 US troops and that "will top out in mid-December just short of 3,000 and that's the most we'll bring into country", he said, noting that most of those are engineers or medical providers and trainers.

Army planners and task force members found that Liberia has more significant capacity than previously thought - in part due to "good contracting capability" already on the ground via USAID - so they are able deviate from the original plan to bring around 4,000 military personnel, Maj Gen Volesky explained.

Still, the task force plans to build up to 17 Ebola treatment units (ETUs) and so far several have already opened including the Monrovia medical unit designated for any infected healthcare workers, who are at risk to the virus if they do not follow strident protective protocols. All the planned ETUs are expected to be in place by the end of December, Maj Gen Volesky said.

Debra Malac, US Ambassador to Liberia, said during the same briefing that the task force in Monrovia currently has "more than enough beds and [is] getting the word out that those beds are available and people should start seeking treatment".

She added, "We hope we don't get those large numbers of beds filled up, but we are prepared if those numbers begin to rise in Monrovia."

Monrovia alone in September was sometimes receiving 100 new cases daily, but Malac said that on 11 November, for example, the government only saw 45 cases. "It wasn't that long ago that we had not nearly enough beds, and people were being turned away and only the very sickest were being taken in to receive treatment," she said.

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