Defense Department takes steps to protect troops from biothreats

The United States Defense Department has begun a several hundred million dollar endeavor to protect troops from bioterrorism by containing potential outbreaks in areas of the world where pathogens are known to exist.

The Defense Threat Reduction Agency is seeking close to $260 million in financial year 2012 to expand this cooperative biological engagement initiative into areas like Tanzania, South Africa, Iraq, Djibouti and India, National Defense Magazine reports. The funds will be spent over three years and will be used to strengthen recent partnerships in Afghanistan, Uganda, Kenya, Pakistan, Georgia, Ukraine, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Azerjaijan and Russia.

"What we're trying to do is build lines of defense between the terrorists who have made it very clear that they are seeking weapons of mass destruction - and who have made it very clear that they'll use them on the American people - and the pathogens," Kenneth Myers, the director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and the U.S. Strategic Command Center for Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction, said, according to National Defense Magazine.

Teams are learning that local health clinics in South Asia, Africa and Southeast Asia possess deadly pathogens, not as potential weapons, but because they need samples of naturally-occurring diseases on hand to diagnose outbreaks in their human and animal populations. These samples are often kept in public repositories where the microbes could easily be stolen and released.

"We're looking for partners in new areas around the world who have legitimate need for maintaining samples of these horrible diseases and pathogens," Myers said, according to National Defense Magazine. "We are looking for ways to partner with them to increase their ability to keep them secure and safe, to be able to account for them so they know exactly how many strains of pathogen X or pathogen Y or pathogen Z they might have."

The cooperative biological engagement teams are also seeking to assist the partner nations with epidemiological training to ensure scientists are effective and efficient at identifying outbreaks and alerting the proper authorities.

"Many of the countries we're dealing with now never had any intention of being a threat to the United States," Myers said, according to National Defense Magazine. "One of their interests in engaging with us is to become real partners with us, and we look forward to developing those relationships."