Possible American Troops in Liberia Not to Be Under U.N. Control
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jul. 14, 2003 Any large-scale deployment of American troops to Liberia would not be under U.N. control, President George W. Bush said at the White House today.
"We would not be blue-helmeted," he said after meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Instead, Bush continued, "we would be there to facilitate (an international force's entry) and then to leave."
Bush said American involvement would be in the form of assistance to the Economic Community of West African States. "It may require troops, but we don't know how many yet," he said.
The U.S. European Command deployed a Humanitarian Assistance Support Team of 35 military members to Liberia July 7 to assess military and humanitarian support requirements. A Pentagon spokesman explained this team is comprised of experts in civil affairs, medical treatment, preventive medicine, contracting, civil engineering, public affairs, logistics and water purification. The HAST also includes 15 Marines for security.
Most of the team's members came from U.S. Naval Forces Europe, headquartered in London.
Bush said he'd make a decision on additional military support once he has a report of this team's assessment, but he didn't give any timeline.
He did note that the United States would take no further action until Liberian President Charles Taylor leaves the country. Taylor has agreed to step down, but has made no move in that direction. Press reports indicate that Nigeria has offered him asylum.
Speaking with Bush, Annan indicated an initial peacekeeping force sent to Liberia by ECOWAS would be comprised of 1,000 to 2,500 international troops.
"After that, President Taylor will leave Liberia, and then the force will be strengthened, hopefully with U.S. participation and additional troops from the West African region," he said. "And eventually U.N. blue helmets will be set up to stabilize the situation. And once the situation is calmer and (more stable), the U.S. would leave and the U.N. peacekeepers will carry on the operation."
The United States upped its military contingency in Africa over the weekend. On July 13, roughly 100 service members and four military aircraft deployed to West Africa to support the HAST team should emergency evacuation become necessary.
Three HH-60 Pavehawk helicopters and the personnel needed to support them were sent to Sierra Leone from Naval Air Station Keflavik, Iceland. An MC-130P Combat Shadow aircraft was sent to Senegal from its Air Force base in Mildenhall, England.