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Military Response Begins as Troops, Equipment Reach Liberia

By Cheryl Pellerin
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Sept. 19, 2014 – The increased U.S. assistance President Barack Obama announced this week has begun to arrive in Liberia, one of the West African countries hardest-hit by the deadly Ebola virus disease outbreak, Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said here today.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
The first shipment of the ramped-up military response to Ebola arrives in Liberia, Sept. 18, 2014. The cargo included a heavy-duty forklift, a drill set and generator, and a team of seven military personnel, including engineers and airfield specialists. The forklift will be used to offload incoming supplies. State Department photo
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Army Maj. Gen. Darryl A. Williams, the U.S. Army Africa commander who will lead the U.S. military's response dubbed Operation United Assistance is now in Liberia, Kirby said.

“He arrived in Monrovia two days ago with a 12-person assessment team [that] is conducting on-the-ground planning and site surveys to construct Ebola treatment units in Liberia,” the admiral told reporters at a news conference.

At the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta on Sept. 16, Obama announced that U.S. Africa Command would set up a joint force command headquarters in the Liberian capital to support U.S. military activities and to help in coordinating expanded U.S. and international relief efforts to fight the Ebola outbreak -- the worst in history.

Kirby said C-17 aircraft carrying military handling equipment arrived in Monrovia yesterday.

Whole-of-government effort

“The aircraft offloaded a heavy-duty forklift, a generator and a crew of seven military personnel to quickly assess the capacity and payload of the runways at Roberts International Airport,” he said, adding that the equipment would help to provide general support for the U.S. whole-of-government response going forward.

“We anticipate that two C-17s will arrive in Liberia this weekend with approximately 45 additional U.S. military personnel,” the admiral said, “and they will begin work establishing the command headquarters of General Williams.”

Kirby said the assessment team also will evaluate what other deployed U.S. military personnel will need in terms of support infrastructure to sustain operations for up to six months, “or however long U.S. military assistance is required” in West Africa.

Williams and U.S. Ambassador to Liberia Deborah Malac have met with Liberian officials, including President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, to discuss the increased U.S. response to the Ebola crisis. They also have toured several sites where more Ebola treatment units will be built, Kirby said.

“Currently, program funds approved for the DoD Ebola response are around $30 million,” the admiral explained, adding that this includes previously announced efforts such as a 25-bed mobile hospital for ill African health care workers, supplies and lab training, diagnostic equipment, and personal protective equipment.

Request to reprogram funds

So far, DoD has requested to reprogram two rounds of $500 million each in fiscal year 2014 overseas contingency funds to provide urgent humanitarian assistance to fight Ebola, Kirby said, noting that DoD is prepared to devote up to $1 billion to its Ebola response efforts.

“We’re still working through all the planning processes to determine future requirements and resources,” he told reporters, “and we expect additional personnel and materials to continue flowing to the affected area over the next several weeks and months.”

In response to questions, Kirby said there “is no intention right now that [deployed troops] will interact with patients or be in areas where they would necessarily come into contact with patients.”

He added, “They're not doctors. They're not nurses. They're not trained for that and not equipped for that. That's not part of the mission. They will be kept in locations where they can do their jobs without coming into contact with patients.”

The troops will be acting in support of health care workers who are the experts at treating patients, he explained.

“A key component of moving our troops anywhere in any situation is to make sure that we adequately prepare them, train them, and equip them for their own personal protection,” he explained.

Clear-eyed about the risk

Kirby said the department is clear-eyed about the risk it’s incurring in standing up the mission in Liberia with a deadly disease.

“The disease itself is the threat. We understand that,” he said. “We get paid to deal in risk and to manage that and to mitigate it the best we can. It's difficult in any military operation to eliminate it, and the men and women who sign up and serve in the military understand that when they do.”

Operation United Assistance is not led by the military, Kirby said, noting that in this case, DoD is supporting the U.S. Agency for International Development, the State Department and the Liberian government.

“We have unique capabilities,” the admiral said. “We try to stay as ready and prepared across those capabilities as we can. And if there should be a need in the future to change the mission, to modify it somewhat, then we'll have that discussion. But there's no discussion about that right now.”

(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter @PellerinDoDNews)

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Biographies:
Army Maj. Gen. Darryl A. Williams

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Obama Details Major Increase in U.S. Ebola Response
Obama to Announce Africom Joint Force Command HQ in Liberia



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