Why is US deploying the military to fight Ebola?

On Tuesday, White House officials outlined a new plan to assign 3,000 members of the American armed forces to supply medical and logistical support to help treat Ebola epidemic victims.

James Giahyue/REUTERS
A health worker brings a woman suspected of having contracted the Ebola virus to an ambulance in Monrovia, Liberia, September 15, 2014.

The Obama administration is enlisting the US military in the fight against West Africa’s Ebola crisis.

On Tuesday, White House officials outlined to reporters a new plan to assign 3,000 members of the American armed forces to supply medical and logistical support to help treat Ebola epidemic victims.

US Africa Command will set up a joint force headquarters in Monrovia, Liberia, according to the White House. This will be supplemented by a regional intermediate staging facility, presumably in a less-populated area, where many of the US personnel will be based.

Military engineers will then fan out through the affected region – Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone; and to a lesser extent Nigeria and Senegal – to erect 17 health-care clinics of 100 beds each.

US forces will erect a facility intended to train 500 health-care providers each week, enabling them to safely handle Ebola patients in their home areas, says the administration. They’ll also arrange for the distribution of hundreds of thousands of home health-care kits to local residents.

“The Ebola epidemic in West Africa and the humanitarian crisis there is a top national security priority for the United States,” says the White House fact sheet outlining the administration’s new effort.

Why is the Defense Department fighting the war on Ebola? The short answer is because it is the largest and most capable US organization available for emergency action, and has money to pay for the effort.

The military’s extensive airlift and health-care infrastructure can quickly plug holes in the current international fight to try and contain the Ebola outbreak. US personnel should be flowing into the area in force in about two weeks, according to the White House.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon plans to move some $500 million of unspent funds within its budget into an account to fund Ebola action. The US has already spent some $175 million and moved 100 civilian experts from the Centers for Disease Control into West Africa.

Plus, the administration has now decided it’s time to move fast. If anything, it is past time. Cases are increasing at an exponential case. UN officials on Tuesday estimated that the world will need to commit upward of $1 billion to contain the crisis.

“The response to Ebola continues to fall dangerously behind,” said Dr. Joanne Liu, president of Doctors Without Borders, in a speech Tuesday at the UN.

In regards to the new West African deployment, the administration has yet to notify Congress, as required, that it is sending troops abroad absent a declaration of war. But that shouldn’t be a problem, writes Hayes Brown in left-leaning Think Progress.

“It’s unlikely there will be much pushback from the Hill, based on the amount of attention the crisis has seen from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle,” writes Brown.

Indeed, on Tuesday House Speaker John Boehner mildly criticized the administration for inaction on Ebola.

Asked his opinion of the new White House plan, Speaker Boehner said, “I’m a bit surprised that . . . the administration hasn’t acted more quickly to address what is a serious threat not just to Africans but to others around the world.”

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