The United States (US) staged a military ceremony to end its 5-month Ebola mission in Liberia, with the west African nation in recovery from the worst-ever outbreak of the Ebola virus. The 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) showcased its colors, the ceremonial folding and stowing of the flag, in Monrovia, marking the end of the 'Joint Forces Command United Assistance Mission'.
Liberia, once the country worst hit by the Ebola virus, has registered 4,037 of around 9,600 total deaths in the epidemic. Authorities in Monrovia reported just one new confirmed case nationwide in the last week. Government spokesman Isaac Jackson said, "The number of patients being treated in Liberia's 19 Ebola treatment centers had dropped to as low as two last week. This is an indication that Liberia is making significant progress in the fight against Ebola."
A force that at one point reached 2,800 has been gradually scaled back since the epidemic began to recede, and nearly all troops will be called back by the end of April. Around 100 US troops will remain in the region to strengthen disease preparedness and surveillance capacity of local governments.
Mission commander Major General Gary Volesky said, "The importance of the progress we see today means more than just the reduction in the number of new or suspected cases of Ebola. This progress is also about Liberians being able to get back to a normal way of life. The mission was originally expected to last up to 18 months, rotating thousands of troops. President Barack Obama approved plans in September for more than 3,000 troops to head to Liberia and Senegal. But the full contingent never had to be ordered in as the tide began to turn in the effort to contain the virus."
The US government has allocated around $2.5 billion to the Ebola response, while Washington has played a supportive role in securing IMF and World Bank funding. The US forces constructed Ebola treatment units, trained 1,500 health workers, provided logistical support for aid agencies and set up labs to test blood samples. Although the troops in Liberia and Senegal had no contact with patients, the Pentagon has placed all military personnel returning from west Africa in quarantine as a precaution.
The end of the military mission comes with Liberia's President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf visiting Washington to thank the American people for their contribution to Liberia's recovery. She told the government aid agency, "USAID American help had been crucial, providing the much-needed support that enabled our people in the towns, villages and communities who were the victims to take ownership of the fight. The US has been a great partner."