The Cable

Defense Breaks With the White House on Ebola Response

In a full split with the White House, the Pentagon will monitor all soldiers returning from deployment to West Africa for 21 days even though not one is expected to treat patients for Ebola. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made the decision public on Wednesday, Oct. 29. Previously, only the Army mandated that troops serving as ...

Photo by John Moore / Getty Images News
Photo by John Moore / Getty Images News

In a full split with the White House, the Pentagon will monitor all soldiers returning from deployment to West Africa for 21 days even though not one is expected to treat patients for Ebola.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made the decision public on Wednesday, Oct. 29. Previously, only the Army mandated that troops serving as part of the U.S. response to the Ebola outbreak in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea be held in separate quarters and watched.

Hagel refused to call it a quarantine policy; he said that military personnel would remain in "controlled monitoring." However, that meets the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s definition of quarantine. Troops returning from Africa would be cut off the outside world and their families for three weeks.

"The fact is, the military will have more Americans in Liberia than any other department," Hagel said Wednesday. "That’s number one. Number two, our people are younger. The cohorts are different. They are not volunteers. And this is also a policy that was discussed in great detail by the communities — by the families of our military men and women. And they very much wanted a safety valve on this."

The Defense Department’s decision is it at odds with Barack Obama’s administration. The White House insists that quarantines for medical workers returning from West Africa are unnecessary.

However, President Obama said Tuesday that U.S. troops responding to the West African outbreak were different from medical and aid volunteers working in the region.

"They are already by definition if they are in the military under more circumscribed conditions," Obama said. "We don’t expect to have similar rules for our military as we do for civilians."

Hagel made the call out of an "abundance of caution," spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said. Kirby also acknowledged that Hagel is aware of the "spillover effects on other agencies and the American people."

That spillover didn’t stop Obama from addressing the American people again Wednesday afternoon to highlight the administration’s response to the deadly Ebola virus. Surrounded by volunteers returned from West Africa, Obama said that America is doing more to quell the outbreak than any other country.

"That’s what we do," Obama said. "No other nation is doing as much to help in West Africa as the United States of America."

David Francis was a senior reporter for Foreign Policy, where he covered international finance. @davidcfrancis

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