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US Military Ebola Mission Shrinks by 1,000 Troops

The 633 MDG packaged and delivered a modular medical treatment center, as part of the effort to support humanitarian relief operations in Ebola-stricken African nations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kayla Newman)
The 633 MDG packaged and delivered a modular medical treatment center, as part of the effort to support humanitarian relief operations in Ebola-stricken African nations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kayla Newman)

The U.S. military has scaled back the number of U.S. troops needed to combat Ebola in West Africa from 4,000 to 3,000 personnel, the Army general in command of the military operation said today.

Army Maj. Gen. Gary Volesky, commander of the 101st Airborne Division, told reporters the situation in Liberia has improved slightly and can be handled with fewer forces than originally expected.

"We have got just under 2,200 right now. We will top out in the middle of December just short of 3,000, and that is the most we will bring into country," Volesky told reporters at the Pentagon during a Nov. 12 video teleconference.

The Operation United Assistance Joint Force, made up of elements of the 101st Airborne, deployed to the region to support USAID personnel in building Ebola treatment units and training health-care workers.

Unlike the normal deployment package of the 101st, the force is heavy on engineers, medical and sustainment personnel.

The Pentagon had originally planned to send about 4,000 personnel, but since the mission began, U.S. military forces on the ground have learned that Liberia has strong contracting resources for construction of treatment facilities, Volesky said.

"When the original request for forces was created, it was larger than that, but what we found in working with USAID and the government of Liberia was there is a lot of capacity that we didn’t know about before and so that enabled us to reduce the original amount of forces that we thought we had to bring."

No U.S. military members have shown any symptoms of Ebola so far, Volesky added.

The number of Ebola cases has declined slightly, but U.S. officials maintain that the mission is far from complete.

"The rate of increase is much lower than it has been over the last couple of months," said Debra Malac, U.S. ambassador to Liberia. "But for the moment, we need more treatment units. We need more personnel to treat patients. ... We are not out of the woods by any stretch of the imagination."

Officials said the arrival of special mobile labs has helped speed up the process for determining who has been infected with Ebola, Malac said.

Currently, there are three mobile labs in Liberia, and four more are scheduled to arrive by the end of November, officials maintain.

"They are a critical piece of the treatment picture and the case management picture," said Malac, describing how the labs can have test results in just hours.

"The sooner you can screen someone out as not having Ebola ... the sooner they can be sent off to a regular health care facility and receive treatment" for their unrelated health problem, Malac said.

"And you don’t run the risk of somehow transmitting Ebola to them because they have to sit around in an ETU and wait for days until those test results come back which is what was happening several months ago."

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@monster.com

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