Obama to send 3,000 soldiers to Africa to fight Ebola

By Lucia Leal,

Washington : US President Barack Obama has expanded his strategy to fight the Ebola virus disease outbreak in West Africa with his decision to send around 3,000 soldiers to provide support to the local authorities and pledged to “mobilise the world” to stop what he considers a “global threat”.

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In an attempt to lead the global response against Ebola, Obama announced Tuesday the creation of a Joint Forces Command in Monrovia, Liberia, that will coordinate a contingent of around 3,000 soldiers, deployed throughout the region affected by the epidemic, which has caused over 2,400 deaths so far in West Africa.

“Faced with this outbreak, the world is looking to us, the United States, and it’s a responsibility that we embrace. We’re prepared to take leadership on this, to provide the capabilities that only America has and to mobilise the world in ways only America can do,” Obama said in a speech in Atlanta, Georgia.

Obama said that the Pentagon was the right agency to carry out his strategy because it was better at responding to disasters and epidemics than any other organisation on earth.

He compared the present plan with that after the earthquake in Haiti in 2010 when the US sent 20,000 soldiers to the Caribbean nation.

“In West Africa, Ebola is now an epidemic of the likes that we have not seen before. It’s spiralling out of control. If the outbreak is not stopped now, we could be looking at hundreds of thousands of people infected with profound political and economic and security implications for all of us,” Obama said.

The command set up by Obama in Monrovia will be directed by the head of the African division of the US Army, Lt. Gen. Darryl A. Williams, who arrived in Liberia Tuesday to coordinate the deployment of the rest of the military contingent that will take place over the next two weeks.

According to the White House, none of the 3,000 soldiers will provide medical care to Ebola patients but will be in charge of logistics, engineering and overall coordination as well as setting up a centre to train 500 health officers a week in the region.

The military will also operate air lifts to bring health experts and medical supplies to the region and will put in effect 17 treatment centres in Liberia, each with a capacity for 100 patients in addition to providing basic emergency equipment for 400,000 Liberian households.

A substantial number of the 3,000 soldiers will be deployed to a new base that will be in charge of organising the logistics for the operation from Senegal, a country unaffected by Ebola, White House spokesperson Josh Earnest said.

With the effort codenamed Operation United Assistance, Obama wants to emerge as a global leader in the fight against Ebola.

He also affirmed Tuesday that the chances of an Ebola outbreak in the US were “extremely low”.

“The world has a responsibility to act, to step up and do more,” Obama said.

“More nations have to contribute with experienced personnel, supplies and funds that are needed, and have to quickly deliver what they promise,” he added.

The UN Tuesday estimated that $1 billion is needed to put the epidemic under control in West Africa, 10 times more than initially estimated a month ago.

In addition, the World Health Organisation said last week that it needed between 500 and 600 foreign professionals in the countries affected by the disease, and at least 10 Ebola treatment centres.

Obama Tuesday also asked Congress to approve $88 million to fight the disease, while the Pentagon was to relocate $500 million in contingency funds for its mission.

The president made his statements from the headquarters of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, which has sent around 100 experts to the affected countries.

Obama Tuesday also met at the White House with one of the four Americans who had contracted Ebola, Kent Brantly, who was cured with an experimental drug and has testified before a Senate Committee about the epidemic which he witnessed in Liberia.

“If we don’t do something to stop this outbreak now, it can quickly become a problem of national security for the United States, either as a regional war giving an advantage to terrorist groups such as Boko Haram in West Africa or the spread of the disease to the United States,” Brantly said.