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U.S. military force fighting Ebola virus could grow to 4,000 troops

A Liberian Red Cross worker looks on Friday for dead people in Monrovia, Liberia, where the Ebola virus has crippled the country’s already weak health services, killed at least 89 health workers and prompted stark warnings of an explosion of cases and complete collapse of the fragile post-war society. (Pascal Guyot/AFP/Getty Images)

The U.S. military could deploy up to 4,000 troops to western Africa as part of Washington’s broader response to the threat posed by the deadly Ebola virus, the Pentagon press secretary said Friday.

Rear Adm. John Kirby disclosed the number to reporters at the Pentagon, stressing that while the Defense Secretary has approved the potential deployment of up to 4,000 service members, “that doesn’t mean it’s going to get to that number.”

Still, military officials had previously said that about 3,000 service members would deploy in response to the global health crisis developing in Liberia and other neighboring countries. It has killed more than 3,300 people in western Africa. Ebola was diagnosed for the first time in the United States on Wednesday, when it surfaced in Dallas.

Military officials have been quick to stress that U.S. troops will not be directly treating infected patients. But Kirby added Friday that a series of precautions will be taken to protect U.S. troops, and they’ll be monitored regularly in case they get Ebola.

“We’re going to train them up on what Ebola looks like, feels like, does,” he said. “While they’re there, they’re going to be constantly monitored on a regular, frequent basis. I was talking to a senior officer that was down in Liberia just recently. He was there for one day, and they took his temperature 10 times during that day just to make sure that throughout the day, there had been no changes.”

The bulk of the military’s deployments will come from the Army. A headquarters unit from the 101st Airborne Division, of Fort Campbell, Ky., will oversee the mission from Monrovia, Liberia’s capital, under the command of Maj. Gen. Gary Volesky.

The Army plans to deploy 3,200 soldiers, service officials said Friday. Other units involved include the 101st Sustainment Brigade; the 86th Combat Support Hospital, 44th Medical Brigade; and a military police company with the 16th Military Police Brigade. All of those units are based at Fort Campbell, and will combine to provide medical, logistical and security support for the mission, known as Operation United Assistance.

Other Army units from Fort Hood and Fort Bliss in Texas, Fort Stewart and Fort Benning in Georgia, Fort Carson in Colorado, Fort Bragg in North Carolina, and Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland also will send forces as part of the Army’s 3,200-soldier deployment.

The soldiers from Fort Hood include 500 soldiers from the 1st Medical Brigade, the 36th Engineer Brigade and the 85th Civil Affairs Brigade, officials said. Fort Carson will send about 160 soldiers from the 4th Engineer Battalion, and Fort Bragg will deploy 120 soldiers for engineering and public affairs. The 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosives Command at Aberdeen will send 10 soldiers for laboratory work, and about 100 soldiers from Fort Benning, Fort Stewart and Fort Eustis will round out the force.

The units will begin deploying by late October, and may continue to through November, depending on the need and transportation available, Army officials said.