The escalating Ebola epidemic in West Africa led the U.S. military Friday to raise the estimate of the troops that might be needed to combat the virus to 4,000 or more.
President Obama last month initially committed 3,000 troops to the effort, but the military has now assigned at least 3,200 and Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said the number could go to 4,000 or higher depending on the spread of the disease.
Currently, there are about 230 troops on the ground in West Africa – about 200 in Liberia and about 26 at an Intermediate Staging Base in Senegal for the funneling of supplies into the region, Kirby said.
On Tuesday, the Pentagon announced that 700 troops from the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Ky., would be going to Liberia in late October led by Maj. Gen. Gary Volesky, commander of the 101st. The 700 would set up a headquarters for a Joint Task Force Command, the Pentagon said.
Once those troops have arrived, Volesky will take command of Operation United Assistance against Ebola from Maj. Gen. Darryl Williams, who will return to the command of U.S. Army Africa.
In addition to the 700 from the 101st, 700 troops from several commands – many of them combat engineers -- were also being designated for deployment to West Africa.
The Army on Friday announced that more units from several bases, totaling about 1,800 troops, would also deploy in support of against Ebola by the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Centers for Disease Control.
Other units from Fort Campbell contributing troops to the 1,800 were elements of the 86th Combat Support Hospital, 44th Medical Brigade, and a Military Police company from the 16th Military Police Brigade.
"These units will provide medical and logistic support, as well as site security to the Joint Task Force,” the Army said.
Units from Fort Hood, Tex.; Fort Carson, Colo.; Fort Bliss, Texas; Fort Bragg, N.C., Fort Stewart, Ga., Fort Benning, Ga., Fort Eustis, Va., and the Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., were also joining the response the Army said.
Fort Hood will send about 500 troops from the 1st Medical Brigade, the 36th Engineer Brigade and the 85th Civil Affairs Brigade.
Fort Bliss will send about 500 Soldiers from the 1st Armored Division's aviation brigade to provide lift capability in the area of operations. Fort Carson is contributing about 160 Soldiers from the
4th Engineer Battalion, and Fort Bragg will send about 120 Soldiers providing engineer and public affairs support.
The 20th CBRNE (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and high-yield Explosives) Command at Aberdeen Proving Ground will send about 10 Soldiers for medical-laboratory support, the Army said.
Additionally, civil affairs, combat support and combat service support units from Fort Benning, Fort Stewart and Fort Eustis are providing about 100 Soldiers.
At a Pentagon briefing, Kirby stressed that there was "no expectation at all that our troops are going to be working in high-risk areas,” or that the troops "are going to be getting close to folks being treated for Ebola.”
The troops’ main tasks will be to set up a 25-bed treatment facility later this month and then an additional 17 treatment facilities of 100-beds each, according to the Pentagon.
The troops will be constantly monitored in West Africa for possible effects from Ebola, Kirby said, and they will be constantly monitored when they return.
The World Health Organization reported Tuesday that the number of Ebola patients in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone had passed 7,470, with 3,431 deaths recorded.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at email@example.com