PENTAGON - The U.S. military says it is scaling back its planned Ebola response deployments to West Africa from 4,000 troops to 3,000.
Major General Gary Volesky, who heads the U.S. military's response to the Ebola outbreak, said in a call to reporters at the Pentagon from Liberia the United States does not need 4,000 troops to fight Ebola in West Africa. He said the troop total will increase from about 2,200 today to just under 3,000 by mid-December.
"There is a lot of capacity here that we did not know about before, and so that enabled us to reduce the forces that we thought we originally had to bring," said Volesky.
Volesky said the United States had about 2,200 U.S. troops currently in Liberia, a number that would grow to nearly 3,000 next month. The mission was initially authorized for up to 4,000.
"We will top out in the middle of December just short of 3,000, and that's the most we'll bring into country," he said.
The U.S. military deployed forces to Liberia to support the international Ebola response mission led by the U.S. Agency for International Development. U.S. troops were assigned to build up to 17 Ebola treatment units and provide mobile testing labs.
"When the original request for forces was created, it was larger than that, but what we found ... is there's a lot of capacity here that we didn't know about before," Volesky said. "That enabled us to reduce the forces that we thought we originally had to bring."
The general says the approximately 3,000-troop team will remain heavy on engineers, medical providers and trainers.
U.S. Ambassador to Liberia Deborah Malac says the rate of increase in Ebola cases is much lower than it has been over the past couple of months. But she warned more still needs to be done.
"The numbers of cases continue to increase. We are not out of the woods by any stretch of the imagination," said Malac.
The ambassador told reporters Liberia needs more treatment units and more personnel to help treat Ebola patients.
The World Health Organization has reported about 14,000 cases of Ebola since the outbreak began. The organization announced Wednesday the number of people who have died from the virus now has passed 5,000.
Some material for this report came from Reuters.