Civil-military response to health emergencies: An appropriate last resort

By Pete Troilo 15 February 2016

The U.S. Department of Defense in collaboration with a team of engineers from the Armed Forces of Liberia construct a new Ebola treatment unit in Bomi Country. The Ebola crisis was the first time foreign military forces were deployed exclusively to deal with an infectious disease outbreak. Photo by: Morgana Wingard / USAID / CC BY-NC

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa was officially declared in late March 2014. In the following months, civilian health agencies tried to contain the virus which had spread across borders from Guinea to Liberia and Sierra Leone. And by August, as the number of cases continued to rise, the outbreak was declared a public health emergency of international concern.

Then in September, coinciding with a United Nations Security Council resolution on Ebola, United States President Barack Obama announced that 3,000 American military personnel would be deployed to the Ebola-affected region under Operation United Assistance.

“Our forces are going to bring their expertise in command and control, in logistics, in engineering. And our Department of Defense is better at that, our Armed Services are better at that than any organization on Earth,” Obama said from the headquarters of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia.

Obama’s decision to commit U.S. forces abroad faced little resistance and it is widely acknowledged that foreign military intervention played an instrumental role in curtailing the spread of the virus.

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About the author

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Pete Troilo

As director of global advisory and analysis, Pete manages all Devex research and analysis operations worldwide and monitors key trends in the global development business. Prior to joining Devex, Pete was a political and security risk consultant with a focus on Southeast Asia. He has also advised the U.S. government on foreign policy and led projects for the Asian Development Bank and International Finance Corp.

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