- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Amid dire warnings from medical professionals and frantic calls from Congress for greater U.S. intervention, President Obama said Tuesday he’ll deploy 3,000 American troops to combat an African Ebola outbreak that he says is “spiraling out of control.”

The announcement comes as the Ebola death toll officially has reached 2,400 and the number of suspected cases has hit nearly 4,500, though specialists say underreporting in affected nations such as Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea means the true numbers likely are much higher.

Faced with realization that many African nations lack the basic health infrastructure to combat the deadly outbreak, Mr. Obama — with strong bipartisan support on Capitol Hill — said the U.S. must take the lead and prevent the crisis from spreading and claiming even more lives.

“It’s spiraling out of control, it’s getting worse, it’s spreading faster and exponentially,” Mr. Obama said of the epidemic while touring the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. “The world is looking to us, the United States. It’s a responsibility that we embrace. … Hospitals, clinics and the few treatment centers that do exist have been completely overrun. Patients are being turned away. People are literally dying in the streets.”

The U.S. effort will be funded by $500 million in overseas contingency funding that the Pentagon wants to redirect to humanitarian missions in Iraq and West Africa.

Specifically, the mission will include the training of as many as 500 new doctors and health care workers each week; the construction of at least 17 health care facilities in the region, each with 100 beds; the establishment of a joint command center in Monrovia, Liberia, to coordinate international response efforts; and the distribution of home health-care kits in affected areas.

Pentagon officials project that it will take about a month to set up the joint command center. The 3,000 military personnel likely will be in Africa within a few weeks, officials said.

Many Republicans immediately praised the effort, saying it was past time for the U.S. to assume a global leadership role in confronting a crisis that, if left unchecked, could evolve into a global pandemic.

“The threat of this disease deserves a more urgent response from our country and other countries around the world than it is now getting. This is one of the most explosive deadly epidemics in modern time if we do not do what we know what to do to control it,” Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican, said at a Senate committee hearing on the crisis Tuesday afternoon. “Some have asked why should our military be involved — because they have to be involved if we want to deal with the problem.”

Some analysts say Mr. Alexander is correct, and that Mr. Obama’s deployment of armed forces personnel is the most effective way to coordinate response efforts and stop the virus from spreading.

“We have troops that are trained to deal with these kinds of environments. We have the kinds of capabilities that would help in dealing with some of the critical needs they have,” said James Jay Carafano, a national security analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

But others blasted the administration for taking a bite out of the Pentagon budget while still expecting the U.S. military to conduct military and humanitarian missions around the world.

“Unlike what the president seems to believe, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t slash our defense budget on one hand, while expecting our military to do it on the other,” said Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican and the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

By announcing his new strategy to confront Ebola — which is spread through bodily fluids and can be contracted after contact with an infected corpse — specialists say Mr. Obama could be committing the U.S. to a lengthy campaign.

“There is a window of opportunity to control the spread of this disease, but that window is closing. If we do not act now to stop Ebola, we may be dealing with it for years to come,” Dr. Beth Bell, director of the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases at the CDC. told members of the Senate committee at a hearing Tuesday.

In addition to the $500 million to fund the Pentagon’s efforts, the Department of Health and Human Services is seeking an added $30 million to help battle Ebola. The administration already estimates it has spent about $100 million on the effort.

Maggie Ybarra contributed to this article, which was based in part on wire-service reports.

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