Washington: The US military expects to increase the number of troops deployed to Liberia to fight the Ebola outbreak to nearly 4,000, up from a planned 3,000-strong force, the Pentagon said today.
About 200 soldiers are already in Liberia setting up a headquarters for the US mission, which is aimed at training health care workers and setting up medical facilities for international aid teams.
President Barack Obama earlier this month announced that about 3,000 troops would eventually head to West Africa to help with efforts against the deadly virus.
But the Pentagon said officials were looking at ramping up the size of the force if necessary.
“We project that there could be nearly 4,000 troops deployed in support of this mission, but we're obviously assessing the requirements on a daily basis. It may not go that high,” spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby told reporters.
He said an additional 1,800 US Army troops, including engineers, medical and aviation specialists, received orders to deploy to Africa in coming weeks.
This was in addition to 1,400 already headed to Monrovia this month, including the troops already on the ground.
The deployment will bring the total number of American forces in Liberia and neighboring states to 3,200, officials said.
There was also a small team of 26 troops in Senegal already in place, in case air evacuations are required out of Liberia, Kirby said.
Two Ebola testing labs in Monrovia managed by US naval medical staff are now up and running, Kirby said, and have already begun processing samples.
And a field hospital for infected medical workers is due to be open by October 18, he said.
Pentagon officials said the clinics, labs and other facilities being constructed and equipped by US troops will enable more doctors and workers from international medical charities to operate out of Liberia to help counter the Ebola outbreak.
The latest troop plans for “Operation Unite Assistance” were unveiled as a fourth American contracted Ebola in Liberia.
By far the most deadly epidemic of Ebola on record has spread into five west African countries since the start of the year, infecting more than 7,000 people and killing about half of them.
None of the soldiers stationed in the region would be in affected areas or treating patients, but the military was leaving nothing to chance, providing them with protective gear and training, Kirby said.
“Before they go, they're going to get trained, especially going to get trained on Ebola and what the disease is like, what it means, what it does,” he said.
“While they're there, they're going to be constantly monitored on a regular, frequent basis.