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Obama sending in troops in ramped-up plan to battle Ebola

President Barack Obama speaks as Sylvia Burwell, left, Secretary of Health and Human Services, and Dr. Tom Frieden, right, director of the CDC, listen at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta on Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014. Obama visited the CDC to receive a briefing on the outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa, discuss the U.S. response, and thank the scientists, doctors, and health care workers who are helping those affected by the disease at home and around the world.

HYOSUB SHIN, ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION/MCT

By CHRISTI PARSONS | Tribune Washington Bureau (MCT) | Published: September 16, 2014

ATLANTA — The United States will significantly boost its efforts to block the spread of Ebola across West Africa, President Barack Obama said Tuesday, casting the disease as a national security concern as he embarked on a brief tour intended to burnish his image as commander in chief.

The U.S. military will be heavily involved in a campaign in which the Pentagon will be working with local governments in the affected region to build 17 new Ebola treatment units, administration officials said. Military medical staff will also be training 500 health care providers a week to care for patients and prevent transmission of the virus, they said.

Amid concerns that the U.S. has not done enough to help stem the flow of the deadly virus, Obama traveled to Atlanta to visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and met with scientists, doctors and health care workers to outline a stepped-up U.S. response.

“If we take the proper steps, we can save lives, but we have to act fast,” Obama said. “We can’t dawdle on this one. We have to move with force and make sure that we are catching this as best we can given that this has broken out in ways we have not seen before.”

The new U.S. plan, which some have said was too long in coming, calls for the military’s Africa command to set up a joint force headquarters in Liberia to coordinate international relief efforts. That effort will be led by a U.S. Army general and will involve an estimated 3,000 U.S. forces, according to the White House.

Most of the current cases of Ebola are in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, where the outbreak was first reported in March. As of Saturday, 4,985 Ebola cases were reported in West Africa, although many had not yet been confirmed through laboratory testing, the World Health Organization said in a report released Tuesday. At least 2,461 of those believed infected have died.

The number of cases could rise to 20,000 in the coming months, the WHO has said.

The outbreak is growing exponentially and could take nearly $1 billion to bring under control, the WHO warned Tuesday. The figure is double what the organization estimated last month when it outlined a strategy to respond to the epidemic.

“This is a global threat, and it demands a truly global response,” Obama said, calling on other nations to move quickly to help fight the outbreak and for charities to work with governments to maximize the response.

“This is a daunting task,” Obama said, adding, “but here’s what gives us hope. The world knows how to fight this disease.”

After he spoke, the president was scheduled to head to Tampa, Fla., to meet with military officials charged with carrying out the administration strategy to defeat the Islamic State terrorist group.

As the White House works to build public and congressional support for Obama’s foreign policy, aides say the schedule illustrates Obama’s sustained engagement on national security issues and demonstrates his willingness to use military might.

Even as Obama was selling his foreign policy plans, though, one of his top military advisers veered away from the president’s pronouncement that he will not deploy U.S. ground troops to fight the Islamic State. During a hearing before lawmakers. Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said it’s possible that he will recommend ground troops as an option at some point.

“If we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraqi troops on attacks against specific ISIL targets, I’ll recommend that to the president,” Dempsey said, using one the acronyms that refer to the Islamic State.

After Dempsey’s testimony, the White House insisted that the Pentagon plans are in alignment with the president’s policy, and cast the general’s remarks as a hypothetical that the president wouldn’t consider anyway.

The president has been clear about the policy, White House press secretary John Earnest said, adding that “the policy hasn’t changed.”

Staff writer Alexandra Zavis contributed to this report.

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