The United States has revised the number of troops it will send to West Africa from about 4,000 to an estimated 3,000, according to the commander of the Ebola mission.
Maj. Gen. Gary Volesky, commander of the storied 101st Airborne Division, who has assumed responsibility of the Ebola mission’s Joint Forces Command, made that revelation while briefing reporters in the Pentagon by telephone from Liberia.
He said that there are about 2,200 American soldiers already in Liberia.
“We will top out in the middle of December just short of 3,000, and that’s the most we’ll bring in the country,” revealed Gen. Volesky.
The Pentagon had previously estimated that up to 4,000 troops would be deployed to fight the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
“Now, when the original request for forces was created, it was larger than that. But what we found working with USAID and the government of Liberia was there’s a lot of capacity here that we didn’t know about before,” explained the commander of Operation United Assistance, the Ebola mission’s official name. “And so that enabled us to reduce the forces that we thought we originally had to bring.”
Deborah Malac, the U.S. Ambassador to Liberia, who briefed Pentagon reporters by telephone from Liberia with Gen. Volesky, said that the number of Ebola infection cases continues to increase, but at a much slower pace.
“The number of cases continue[s] to increase. We are not out of the woods by any stretch of the imagination,” said the diplomatic envoy. “Clearly, the rate of increase is much lower than it has been over the last couple of months.”
Malac indicated that the rate of infection has gone down dramatically in Liberia’s capital Monrovia, one of the most heavily afflicted parts of the country.
“I mean, back in September … it was not unusual to have 100 or more new cases a day in Monrovia itself. Forget about elsewhere in the country. That number has significantly decreased in Monrovia itself, but we still have, for example yesterday, 45 new cases in the country,” she said.
However, she added that Ebola virus “hotspots” are “popping up” in other regions outside of Monrovia.
The government of Liberia, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), among other entities, are working on developing a mechanism to rapidly respond to the Ebola virus shifting to new areas.
“CDC is at the forefront of this effort, to be able to go in and respond very quickly in these outlying rural areas to ensure that we can get those little outbreaks under control before they become a broader problem,” asserted Malac.
“We really are still very much at the beginning of this effort, although we’ve been all working very, very hard for many weeks, some of us for many months, on this issue,” she said.
“Until we have everything down to zero and we haven’t had a case for a couple of months, none of us will be able to rest easily at night,” Malac later added.