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Top U.S. Commander in Africa Is Optimistic on Liberia’s Battle With Ebola

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The top American military commander for Africa on Wednesday gave a vote of confidence to the international effort to halt Ebola, saying that the U.S. mission against the virus might be able to scale back its operations in Liberia by next month.

Gen. David M. Rodriguez told reporters at the Pentagon that U.S. troops deployed in Liberia might be shifted to other hard-hit countries in the region, or even sent back home, if progress reports continue to encourage optimism. The latest status report from the World Health Organization (WHO), released on Wednesday, said that cases in Liberia are “stable or declining,” but was cautious in its assessments for Sierra Leone and Guinea.

“The majority of the big engineering and logistic things in Liberia will probably start to tail off at the end of the year or January,” Rodriguez said. “The trend lines are all moving in the right direction.”

Some 2,900 U.S. troops have been deployed to West Africa to help contain the Ebola virus, which has killed 6,070 people and infected 17,145. The WHO says that while its goals for the region – treating 70 percent of all infected people and safely burying 70 percent of all people killed by the virus – have been met in “most districts” of the three worst-hit countries, “serious shortfalls” persist in other parts of the region.

In its most recent update, the WHO said that transmission of the virus is “slightly increasing in Guinea” and “remains persistent and intense” in Sierra Leone, where 202 new cases have been reported in the capital, Freetown, since Nov. 30.

Meanwhile, Liberia reported just 43 new cases nationwide over a five-day period, down from 78 cases the previous week, the WHO says. The country still overall has the highest number of Ebola-related deaths out of the three countries, with more than 3,000 killed by the virus.

The U.S. mission began in September and is expected to include up to 4,000 U.S. troops and last at least a year.

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Write to Elizabeth Barber at elizabeth.barber@timeasia.com