WASHINGTON, Dec. 03, 2014 —
With the number of new Ebola cases declining or holding steady in Liberia, the top U.S. military commander for Africa said today that thousands of U.S. troops deployed to West Africa to help stop the spread of the deadly disease could soon shift their focus to other countries if needed or begin to come home.
Army Gen. David M. Rodriguez, who commands U.S. Africa Command, said if asked by USAID and its international partners, Operation United Assistance is prepared to shift its focus to other countries, in particular Guinea and Sierra Leone, which have not seen a similar a drop in Ebola cases.
“The challenge [is] to find and understand where there is a hotspot and then move the resources there quickly,” he said, in providing an update on Operation United Assistance to the Pentagon press corps.
Otherwise, Rodriguez predicted that if current trends continue, the bulk of the 2,900 U.S. troops deployed to the region would likely start to come home within weeks. “The majority of the big engineering and logistic things in Liberia will probably start to tail off at the end of the year or January,” he said, “so that’s when we’ll start to send some of those people home.”
Initially, the mission, which began in September, was expected to last at least a year and include as many as 4,000 U.S. troops, but Rodriguez said he expects civilian agencies will soon be able to take over much of what the military has been doing now that treatment centers have been established and health workers trained.
In Liberia, Rodriguez said, “the trend lines are all moving in the right direction.” However, the World Health Organization reports slight increases in Ebola cases in neighboring Sierra Leone and Guinea. More than 6,000 deaths from Ebola have been reported in the region since March.