US bases Ebola mission in Liberia's defence ministry

Monrovia (AFP) - The United States said on Thursday its mission of 3,000 soldiers helping west Africa's beleaguered health services battle the Ebola outbreak would be based in Liberia's defence ministry but would be purely humanitarian.

The contingent will be focused on training local health workers and setting up facilities to help Liberia and its neighbours halt the spread of the epidemic, which has left almost 3,000 dead across the region.

General Darryl Williams told a news conference in Monrovia the mission, based at the Liberian Ministry of Defence, would be purely "humanitarian" and was not in the country to bolster its fragile security forces.

Military engineers are due to build new Ebola treatment centres in affected areas, Washington said last week, while US officials will help recruit medical personnel to work at the units.

Around 100 US troops have arrived in Liberia so far, according to the US military.

The Pentagon has said the troops will have no direct contact with patients.

President Barack Obama unveiled the deployment last week, issuing an international call to action to prevent the virus from spreading "exponentially".

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has welcomed the US mission and said she hoped Washington's move would prompt other countries to provide more support to address the epidemic.

The UN Security Council has called the Ebola virus a threat to world peace.

The fever it unleashes can kill victims within days, causing severe muscle pain, weakness, vomiting and diarrhoea -- in many cases shutting down organs and causing unstoppable bleeding.

Liberia, the hardest-hit nation in the outbreak, has seen 3,280 cases of Ebola and almost 1,677 deaths, with health workers turning people away from treatment units due to chronic shortages of beds and staff.

Liberia has enjoyed a decade of peace since back-to-back civil wars killed 250,000 over 14 years, but the country said on Tuesday the Ebola crisis could reignite conflict if the international response did not improve.

Williams said his troops "have the ability to defend ourselves" in case of any outbreak of violence, but added that his initial assessment was that the threat was "relatively low".