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Ebola Remains National Security Issue, Official Says

By Amaani Lyle DoD News, Defense Media Activity

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WASHINGTON, Oct. 24, 2014 — Pentagon officials stressed to Congress today that the Ebola virus epidemic is a national security issue requiring multi-agency coordinated measures to protect troops responding to the outbreak in West Africa.

Michael Lumpkin, assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, and Marine Maj. Gen. James Lariviere, Africa political and military affairs deputy director, described U.S. and local efforts to control the virus as about 3,000 troops are set to deploy to the region by year’s end.

“Absent our government’s coordinated response in West Africa, the virus’s increasing spread raises the risk of more cases here in the United States,” Lumpkin said.

Ebola response increasing

Though international response is increasing across the region due, in part, to U.S. government efforts, Lumpkin acknowledged the difficulties presented by limited transportation and an overstressed health infrastructure outside of Liberia’s capital of Monrovia, a region pummeled with some 200 inches of rain each year.

“I traveled to the region thinking we faced a healthcare crisis with a logistics challenge; in reality what I found was that we face a logistics crisis focused on a healthcare challenge,” he said.

Still, Lumpkin underscored that speed and scaled response matter. “Incremental responses will be outpaced by a rapidly growing epidemic,” he noted.

In mid-September, President Barack Obama ordered the Defense Department to undertake military operations in West Africa in direct support of United States Agency for International Development, Lumpkin reported.

Lumpkin said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel accordingly directed that U.S. military forces undertake a two-fold mission: support USAID in the overall U.S. government efforts and respond to State Department requests for security or evacuation assistance if required.

Defense provides unique capabilities

While direct patient care of Ebola-exposed patients in West Africa is not part of the DoD’s mission, Lumpkin explained that Hagel approved unique military capabilities in command and control, logistics support, engineering support, and training.

In the last six weeks, the department has undertaken a number of synchronized activities in support of these lines of effort -- to include dubbing the operation United Assistance -- which has involved establishing an intermediate staging base in Dakar, Senegal; providing strategic and tactical airlift; and constructing a 25-bed hospital in Monrovia.

Lumpkin also discussed the construction of up to 17 Ebola treatment units in Liberia and training of local and third country healthcare support personnel, enabling them to serve as first responders in Ebola treatment units throughout the region.

Additionally, Lariviere said the DoD is working with U.S. Transportation Command to develop and test an isolation pod for C-17 Globemaster III aircraft that could carry up to 15 symptomatic individuals at a time.

“In all these circumstances, the protection of our personnel and the prevention of any additional transmission of the disease remain paramount planning factors,” Lumpkin said. “There is no higher operational priority than protecting our Department of Defense personnel.”

(Follow Amaani Lyle on Twitter: @LyleDODNews)