When U.S troops are sent into combat to fight a foe such as Middle Eastern jihadists, the objective usually is to kill the enemy and then go home.
But what happens when U.S. soldiers are dispatched to fight a disease?
In West Africa, where an estimated 4,000 troops are being deployed in response to the Ebola crisis, Defense officials say the military will “support” the civilian-led response and construct a “command center,” treatment centers and training centers, even though private companies currently are hiring construction crews for various projects there.
So, what will the soldiers actually do? Will they deliver food, quarantine victims, provide policing?
Responding to those questions, an exasperated Pentagon provided a link to a September “Fact Sheet” that was never received by several reporters on the White House distribution list. The Pentagon then emailed a different “Fact Sheet” on Monday.
Lt. Col. Valerie Henderson told WND: “We’ve been clear in what our troops will be doing there. You were at the press briefing Friday. We’ve been asked to do a mission and we’re doing that. Without you having a clear understanding of what specific things the contractors are going there to do, it’s not fair to make this type of comparison.”
WND had asked: “The question that arises is what is it that 4,000 military will be doing that contractors such as Fluor Corp which is sending up to 100 personnel cannot do? Yet, we’ve been told U.S. soldiers will be building things to fight Ebola. Fluor does that, too. However, with all these contractors heading over there, and they will be separate from the military, the question arises as to why send soldiers, and what will they be doing there that contractors can’t do? Our concern is that no one has been able to specifically define that distinction. Any thoughts?”
The Pentagon also referred WND to AFRICOM, the African command for the U.S. military, which didn’t respond to WND requests for comment.
The vague, online “Fact Sheet” said: “The United States will leverage the unique capabilities of the U.S. military and broader uniformed services to help bring the epidemic under control. These efforts will entail command and control, logistics expertise, training, and engineering support.”
It added: “U.S. Africa Command will set up a Joint Force Command headquartered in Monrovia, Liberia, to provide regional command and control support to U.S. military activities and facilitate coordination with U.S. government and international relief efforts. A general from U.S. Army Africa, the Army component of U.S. Africa Command, will lead this effort, which will involve an estimated 3,000 [later changed to nearly 4,000] U.S. forces.”
A “staging base” also was cited along with Ebola “Treatment Units,” help to “organize” medical personnel and training.
The fact sheet said the U.S. was using a “whole-of-government response,” which also involves Public Health Service commissioned corps and USAID, as well as the U.N. and “partners” from the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Norway, the Africa Union and European Union.
Expenditures are reported in the hundreds of millions of dollars, including work by the Centers for Disease Control, the U.S. Forest Service and the National Institutes of Health.
Meanwhile, Wednesday’s emailed fact sheet included many of the same generalities as the previous version. It said the U.S. would be “leveraging more thoroughly the unique capabilities of the U.S. military to support he civilian-led response in West Africa.”
It said “approximately 350 U.S. military personnel” were dispatched and members of U.S. military “engineering units” were sent.
The sheet also referred to multiple other agencies.
In addition to the military, the number of civilians also is rising. The Pentagon confirmed the civilians were not included in the estimate of up to 4,000 military members.
As WND reported, Fluor Corp., a global construction company, will build temporary housing for U.S. troops in Liberia. Fluor does a variety of construction jobs and employs engineers, electricians and security personnel.
In exclusive interviews with WND, retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. William “Jerry” Boykin and retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Paul E. Vallely condemned Obama’s decision to deploy troops to West Africa, arguing they could bring the virus to the United States or to other units.
The White House has conceded to Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., that troops could contract Ebola.
“It’s a concern that is being dealt with and we’re prepared to deal with,” said White House Senior Adviser Dan Pfeiffer on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “People will be screened appropriately, we’ll make sure that doesn’t happen.”
On the “Laura Ingraham Show,” Paul expressed concern over the handling of the Ebola outbreak.
“We also have to be concerned about 3,000 soldiers getting back on a ship,” Paul said. “Where is disease most transmittable? When you’re at very close confines on a ship.
“We all know about cruises and how they get these diarrhea viruses that are transmitted very easily and the whole ship gets sick. Can you imagine if a whole ship full of our soldiers gets Ebola,?” Paul asked. “So, I am concerned about it and it’s a big mistake to downplay it and act as if it’s not a big deal … this could get beyond our control.”
Supporting disaster relief
The Defense Department said contracting would not be handled by the Pentagon but by AFRICOM, which has set up a Joint Force Command, or JFC, in Monrovia, Liberia, to execute Operation United Assistance.
AFRICOM is one of the six Defense combatant commands that maintains military relations with African nations, the African Union and African regional security organizations. It is responsible for all Defense operations, exercises and security cooperation on the African continent.
AFRICOM’s website makes clear its work is in support of the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, which is the lead federal agency in the U.S. government’s overall effort to respond to the Ebola outbreak.
USAID’s efforts, which include other U.S. government agencies such as the U.S. Public Health Service, have been dubbed the Disaster Assistance Response Team, or DART.
The Public Health Service comes under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services but works in a number of cooperative programs with the Defense Department.
AFRICOM will also establish a regional intermediate staging base, or ISB, to facilitate and expedite the transport of equipment, supplies and personnel. All U.S. military personnel would be stationed at the ISB.
In addition, the JFC will establish a site to train up to 500 health care providers a week to care for patients.
“There currently is no plan for the U.S. military to provide direct patient care,” AFRICOM said.
The operative word here, however, is “currently.”
Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby already has revealed that Navy units are on location manning labs to test samples for the Ebola virus. Two such portable labs have been set up. They can process some 100 samples in one day.