WASHINGTON – Two retired U.S. Army generals have blasted President Barack Obama’s decision to send U.S. troops to West Africa to battle the Ebola virus epidemic, saying the military is to fight wars, not disease.
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, as U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel approved up to 4,000 boots on the ground from a previous ceiling of 3,000.
The concern is that these soldiers, who will be exposed to the environment where the virus is prevalent, could bring it to the United States and potentially spread the disease as they rotate back to the United States and are assigned to other units.
As WND reported, the soldiers would be responsible for command, control, logistics, civil affairs and medical assistance, even though U.S. officials emphasized that their exposure to Ebola would be limited.
The soldiers would not be exposed to patients, except for Navy units that will maintain labs to test samples for the Ebola virus. Already two such portable labs have been set up. They can process some 100 samples in one day.
“This is a president who thinks like a community organizer and not like a commander-in-chief who takes his responsibility for his troops seriously,” Boykin said. “At a time when our military has been at war for 13 years, suicide is at an all-time high, [post-traumatic stress disorder] is out of control and families are being destroyed as a result of 13 years of war, the last thing the president should be doing is sending people into West Africa to fight Ebola.”
These military personnel, Boykin said, don’t have any qualifications to fight an Ebola epidemic environment.
“That’s not what the military does,” he said.
“When [General] Douglas MacArthur in 1962 stood in the mess hall of West Point and made a very impassioned statement, he looked at [the cadets] and said, ‘Your mission remains fixed, determined and inviolable. It is to fight and to win the nation’s wars.’
“That should be what the president is focused on now. The mission of the military is to fight war, not to fight Ebola,” Boykin said. “It is a misuse of our military, and I for one am very opposed to this [deployment].”
Boykin pointed out that there will be no inoculation for Ebola prior to troop deployment. Defense Department spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said that the only preparation service members will receive before heading to West Africa will be briefings on the disease.
“It still comes back to the question whether this is a military mission,” Boykin said. “At this point, no. It is not a military mission, and given the 13 years of war, this is the last thing we should be doing.”
Boykin questioned where the United Nations was in forming a coalition to send into West Africa to fight the Ebola epidemic.
“What about the other African nations? What about a coalition? Where is the U.N.?” Boykin asked. “There should be a U.N. coalition to try to stem the tide of this Ebola [epidemic]. This isn’t a U.S. military operation, and it should not be a U.S. military-led operation.”
Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, made clear to WND in response to a question at his daily news conference that other countries’ response to the epidemic, including the U.N., comes only from an invitation of the government of Liberia, basically evading the issue of any U.N. initiative.
He said that the government of Liberia specifically had asked for U.S. assistance.
In questioning the lack of a U.N. response, Boykin expressed outrage over its immediate response when Israel defends itself from Hamas rockets in the Gaza Strip.
“Let the Israelis respond to one bombing or one missile attack,” Boykin said, “and the U.N. will come out of hiding.”
Echoing Boykin’s concern over the use of the military to fight Ebola, Vallely not only said it’s a “bad idea,” but also warned the U.S. military already has been “put through so much.”
“There are plenty of other assets that America has if it wants to go over there and build hospitals and clearing centers and things like that,” Vallely said. “So, I think it is a very bad misuse especially when [U.S. troops] now are being asked to step up to the plate again in Iraq. So, I think it is a very bad decision on Obama’s part.”
Three weeks ago, Obama had declared the Ebola outbreak to be a “national security priority.”
However, Vallely said the Ebola event can be “twisted or contorted into that, but the military isn’t the only one involved in the security of America.”
In fighting the Ebola disease, he said there is the Center for Disease Control and, “Other parts of the government can step up to the plate to put up the necessary security or contractual-type arrangement to build facilities for security. I just think it is a very bad misuse of our military. It’s just another bad decision on Obama’s part.”
Pentagon officials emphasized that U.S. service personnel would be in a support role only and would not have direct access to Ebola patients, even though U.S. Navy lab technicians will be handling samples to determine whether patients are infected with Ebola or not.
“It is so naïve to say (U.S. troops) won’t be exposed but they’ll be in an area of infectious diseases,” Vallely said. “So, just by the nature of being over there puts you in an environment of exposure of an infectious disease.
“We have so many threats on our border, so many threats coming out of the Middle East and the threat of terrorists coming into the United States that there are other assets that can be put to a contractual use to provide security [in Ebola-affected regions] or to provide other support activities,” Vallely said.
Pentagon officials said that the military also would be providing command and control, in addition to logistical support, but Vallely underscored that the military isn’t the only asset to provide such services.
“There are many capabilities that can support communications – again that’s something that can be contracted out, and it’s been done before,” he said. “It’s just not a good idea to put our soldiers in harm’s way especially when you look at how Obama has treated our military.
“Soldiers will do what you ask them to do, but there’s a certain point where you have to say, ‘Let’s see, what’s the purpose?’ and the purpose of our soldiers is to fight a war and win,” he added. “It’s not to fight medical battles. That’s up to other assets.”
F. Michael Maloof, senior staff writer for WND/ G2Bulletin, is a former security policy analyst in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. He can be contacted at [email protected].