President Obama named a logistics specialist Tuesday in Army Maj. Gen. Darryl A. Williams to lead 3,000 U.S. troops in West Africa against the Ebola epidemic and to create a military "air bridge" to funnel medical supplies and personnel to the region.
Williams, commander of U.S. Army Africa, arrived in the Liberian capital of Monrovia Tuesday to set up a Joint Force Command as the U.S. assumed the lead role in international efforts to combat the spreading epidemic known to have killed at least 2,400, Obama said.
"It's spiraling out of control," with public health systems in West Africa in a state of collapse, Obama said after meetings with health officials at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. "Faced with this outbreak, the world is looking to us."
"It's getting worse. If the outbreak is not stopped now, we could be looking at hundreds of thousands of people affected, with profound economic, political and security implications for all of us," Obama said.
Obama said he had been assured at the CDC that "the chances of an Ebola outbreak here in the U.S. are extremely low."
Most of the 3,000 troops will work out of an Intermediate Staging Base in Senegal to coordinate supply missions while others will join Williams in Monrovia to construct treatment facilities and provide training for health care workers. The troops will not be engaged in direct patient health care, said White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest.
The troop contingent was expected to include Army medics and Navy corpsmen to train health care workers, and Army Corps of Engineers personnel to construct treatment facilities.
Obama administration officials said it would take about two weeks for the troops to arrive. The officials also put the initial costs of the effort at $500 million and said the money would come from existing funding in the budget for Overseas Contingency Operations.
Obama warned that "it's going to get worse before it gets better" in controlling the virus that has hit hardest in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
He said the U.S. had to take the lead role after the efforts of world health groups proved ineffective. "The international organizations just have to move faster," Obama said.
The Medicins Sans Frontieres ( Doctors Without Borders ) aid group, which previously had characterized the U.S. response as "dangerously inadequate," said the announcement by Obama came at a crucial time in efforts to control the epidemic.
In a statement, Brice de le Vingne, director of Operations for MSF, said "We welcome the ambition of the new U.S. Ebola response plan, which appears to match the scope of the disaster unfolding in West Africa."
"This latest pledge, alongside those from a handful of other countries, needs to be put into action immediately," de le Vingne said. "Today, the response to Ebola continues to fall dangerously behind and too many lives are being lost."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at email@example.com