Thousands of American troops headed to Africa to fight… Ebola?

Africa is rapidly becoming an environment rich in both targets and threats.

In Nigeria, the fundamentalist terror group Boko Haram has seized vast swaths of territory and declared the foundation of an African Islamic caliphate. The group known for kidnapping, killing, and enslaving children has embarked on a crusade to destroy the ancient Christian communities in the territory it controls and has imposed Sharia law on locals.

In Libya, the Islamist militias which arose after Gaddafi fell have captured the country’s capital. On Tuesday, new mysterious airstrikes were reportedly carried out against positions occupied by the Islamist militia, Libyan Dawn. The last time similar airstrikes were executed in Libya, they were revealed to be the work of the UAE and Egypt. Neither Abu Dhabi nor Cairo bothered to inform Washington of their plan to open hostilities in North Africa, and it is just as likely that these latest strikes came as a surprise to the administration, too.

And in sub-Saharan Africa, an outbreak of Ebola is rapidly becoming the worst of its kind in human history. Last week, the World Health Organization warned the epidemic is growing “exponentially” worse. Since December, over 3,700 people have been infected and there have been more than 2,200 deaths reportedly due to this disease. The United Nations predicts that there may be up to 20,000 confirmed cases of Ebola before the outbreak is contained.

Of these crises, guess which one the United States is committing 3,000 American Defense Department personnel to fight?

“Under pressure to do more to confront the Ebola outbreak sweeping across West Africa, President Obama on Tuesday is to announce an expansion of military and medical resources to combat the spread of the deadly virus, administration officials said,” The New York Times reported.

The president will go beyond the 25-bed portable hospital that Pentagon officials said they would establish in Liberia, one of the three West African countries ravaged by the disease, officials said. Mr. Obama will offer to help President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia in the construction of as many as 17 Ebola treatment centers in the region, with about 1,700 treatment beds.

Officials said the military expected to send as many as 3,000 people to Africa to take charge of responding got the Ebola outbreak.

“The total cost of the program is estimated at $763 million over six months,” USA Today reported. “The administration has asked Congress for an additional $88 million for the anti-Ebola program, officials said. And the Department of Defense, which is heading up the program, has requested the re-programming of $500 million.”

This unprecedented outbreak requires an unprecedented response to combat, and it is commendable that the president is willing to commit resources to contain this epidemic. A rapidly mutating Ebola outbreak will not remain contained to Africa for long.

It is odd, however, that the president is so willing to commit American defense personnel to a non-combat operation with limited repercussions for America’s national security when there are so many conflicts on that continent and nearby which are far more pressing. Will Obama deliver a speech to the nation in which he carefully explains why committing nearly twice the number of troops to combat Ebola in Africa is a circumspect mission which is critical to American security, or will he simply order their deployment without a care to the politics of the matter? One suspects the latter will be the more likely outcome.

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