Gen. David Rodriguez, commander of U.S. Africa Command, said at a Pentagon briefing on Tuesday that the U.S. military effort to combat Ebola in West Africa would take "about a year," but that the timeline would depend on the spread of the virus and the scope of international participation. (AP)

If U.S. troops in Africa get the Ebola virus, they will be taken to the United States on a specially designed plane and get treatment there, said the top U.S. general overseeing operations in Africa.

The force of up to 4,000 service members will be based in several countries in western Africa, including Liberia, the heart of the ongoing Ebola crisis that has killed more than 3,400 people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. They will be monitored several times per day and where a variety of protective equipment, depending on what jobs they have, said Gen. David Rodriguez, the chief of U.S. Africa Command.

“Stopping the spread of this disease is the core mission here,” Rodriguez told reporters at the Pentagon on Tuesday.

Rodriguez said that a small number of those service members will run testing laboratories and will wear a full biological protective suit that will bring them into contact with individuals who could have Ebola. The U.S. military already has deployed three of the laboratories, each manned by a few people, and has been asked to send a few more.

He later reversed course, saying in statement distributed through the Pentagon that no U.S. military personnel will be treating Ebola patients directly in Africa. The individuals working at the mobile laboratories will work with samples, not people, he said.

The rest of the U.S. troops deployed will be equipped with lighter protective equipment for the mission, including gloves and masks, but will not come into contact with the general population at the greatest risk of contracting the disease. Rather, they’ll remain in locations like airfields, assisting with the logistical effort required to help doctors and other health workers on the ground.

“They don’t need the whole suit as such, because they’re not going to be in any contact with the people,” Rodriguez said of most troops who will deploy.

One role for the military is in building 17 treatment centers for those who get the disease. The effort will likely take until mid-November, Rodriguez said.

We will probably… continue to improve the speed with which we build them. Because after you get one done, the second set goes faster,” the general said. “But that’s the estimate right now, to get all of the 17 done.”

The Pentagon said last week that a force of up to 4,000 troops could deploy for the mission, mostly from the Army. Rodriguez said he thinks that will provide “sufficient capacity” to carry out their mission in support of the humanitarian response. A headquarters unit from the 101st Airborne Division, of Fort Campbell, Ky., is expected to deploy in the next few weeks for Monrovia, Liberia’s capital, under the command of Maj. Gen. Gary Volesky.

If U.S. troops get Ebola, they will receive treatment similar to U.S. aid workers who have contracted the virus, Rodriguez said. In those cases, they crossed the Atlantic in an aircraft that segregated them from other fliers, and received medical care in a U.S. hospital.

UPDATE, 4:20 p.m.: This post was updated to reflect Rodriguez’s clarifying remarks, released Tuesday afternoon by the Pentagon.

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