WASHINGTON – The White House has issued what it calls a “fact sheet” on its plan to send up to 4,000 U.S. troops to the Ebola hot zone in West Africa, but some lawmakers feel that falls short of a detailed plan and a strategy.
Rep. Walter B. Jones, R-N.C., a key member of the House Armed Services committee, has seen that fact sheet but told WND he was not reassured about the safety of U.S. troops and still had questions about the nature of the mission.
“I know what they have outlined about building hospitals and housing and things like that, and I understand, but there are so many unknowns about this disease at this point,” and he let the sentence trail off, unfinished.
The bottom line for Jones was, “When you put our men and women in uniform right in harm’s way, there must be some answers.” He said he simply wanted a better description of the mission.
WND has been trying to find exactly what the mission will be for U.S. troops in West Africa and what, precisely, they will be doing there.
According to the White House fact sheet, troops will:
- Build a command center to process personnel, equipment and supplies.
- Coordinate int’l relief efforts.
- Build treatment units and recruit medical staff.
- Build a place to train healthcare workers.
But, the Pentagon has confirmed to WND that private contractors will be doing much of what spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said the military would be doing.
As WND reported, global construction company Fluor Corp. will be building temporary housing for U.S. troops in Liberia. Fluor does a variety of construction jobs and employs engineers, electricians and security personnel – many of the same tasks the Pentagon said military personnel would be doing.
So why expose thousands of U.S. troops to the deadly and highly contagious plague? What will troops be doing that is different than what contractors will be doing? The Pentagon has not spelled out those details, and referred WND to the fact sheet released by the White House.
“I just think there is more info we need to know,” a soft-spoken Jones told WND. “We don’t have a firm strategy to fully identify the role of the military and that gives me great concern.”
Jones added, “I don’t want to be an alarmist, but when you look at the number of deaths (caused by Ebola) you want to make sure that we do not put our troops in a situation of danger.”
On Friday, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said U.S. troops would not be “directly” treating infected patients, but WND pointed out to Jones there was no guarantee soldiers wouldn’t come in contact with people who had treated patients, and some degree of exposure would seem almost inescapable.
“That is probably true,” replied Jones, who said he was always wary of unintended consequences. “If we can get the answers we would feel better about the commitment being made to involve our troops.”
Is it worth the risk?
Jones wanted more information, but said he had great respect for the judgment of the nation’s military brass, including Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. “Our military will go wherever the commander-in-chief sends them, but we in Congress have a responsibility to their families, as well.”
“Congress and the American people have a right to know exactly what is going to be their role and what their responsibilities are going to be.”
The congressman reflected, “We want to believe the troops will not be exposed but how do you guarantee that? I don’t know, there are just so many questions about Ebola, and everyday we learn something new.”
Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas, who serves on the House Foreign Affairs committee, was perhaps even more skeptical, telling WND the administration was struggling to name the mission, let alone define it.
“It’s interesting. The Obama administration won’t give this operation a name. These big operations usually get big names, like Operation Enduring Freedom.”
Stockman simply stated, “The mission is not clearly defined.”
He said he was worried by reports of trepidation among the soldiers about the mission.
The congressman acknowledged the Ebola outbreak is a major problem, “But does the U.S. military necessarily have the proper people to conduct a biological war? This is pretty serious stuff and I just hope that someone in charge is making better plans than what I’ve seen.”
“There are no published plans. We don’t have to keep this a secret. It’s not a terrorist group,” said a worried Stockman, adding, “I don’t think they have a strategy.”
“It’d be nice if they published a plan that spells out exactly what they plan to do. This is really putting our troops at risk without a lot of forethought. It doesn’t appear well thought-out.”
Stockman characterized this as another example of an administration caught flat-footed to a crisis and scrambling to react.
“Instead of long term planning you’ve got an administration that literally just responds to crises instead of trying to anticipate them. He (president Obama) has been on more golfing trips than he’s had intelligence briefings. I think it’s time to put down those golf clubs and start reading those briefings.”
Also troubling Stockman, he said he’d heard the military is having trouble acquiring enough protective gear and other needed supplies.
When asked if this was a recipe for a disaster, the congressman said he’d be worried if he had a son or daughter in the military.
The office of Stockman’s fellow Texan, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, pointed to a growing concern about Ebola for residents of the Lone Star State.
Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person to be diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S., is receiving treatment in Dallas. A number of people exposed to him have been quarantined and 80 to 100 people are being monitored for symptoms in the Dallas area. Four Dallas schools are undergoing extensive cleanings.
On top of that, 500 of the soldiers departing for West Africa are coming from Fort Hood in Texas, just 150 miles from Dallas.
The White House conceded troops could get Ebola in an interview on “Meet the Press” Sunday.
“It’s a concern that is being dealt with and we’re prepared to deal with,” said White House Senior Adviser Dan Pfeiffer. “People will be screened appropriately. We’ll make sure that doesn’t happen.”
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