President Barack Obama on Thursday authorized the Pentagon to call up reserve and National Guard troops if they are needed to assist in the U.S. response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
Obama signed an executive order that allows the government to call up more forces and for longer periods of time than currently authorized. There is no actual call-up at this point.
If the virus “rages out of control in West Africa,” Obama said Wednesday, “it will spread globally, in an age of frequent travel and the kind of constant interactions that people have across borders.”
Obama and federal health officials have said repeatedly that there’s little chance of widespread infection in the U.S.
The U.S. has committed almost $1 billion to the effort in Africa and the Pentagon is prepared to send as many as 4,000 personnel there, mostly to set up a system to carry personnel and supplies to patients in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. U.S. troops are also building medical facilities to treat victims and training health-care workers.
Obama also notified top congressional officials of his move.
Nearly 4,500 people have died from the Ebola outbreak, most of them in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. The White House has said the troops will not be providing direct health care aid.
Separately, Obama placed phone calls to House Speaker John Boehner, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to discuss the administration’s response to the disease.
He also was consulting with administration public health officials and heads of state about the Ebola outbreak.
Obama canceled a Thursday campaign trip to stay at the White House and focus on Ebola. It’s the second day in a row he nixed a planned trip because of the outbreak.
Obama was to meet late Thursday afternoon with administration and White House officials who are working on the government response to the West Africa outbreak and on health security measures in the U.S.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama will also hold a conference call with health care workers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.