Small U.S. Team to Assess Sierra Leone Situation
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 18, 2000 Seven U.S. service members are currently in Sierra Leone assessing security and transportation facilities as part of humanitarian efforts in the country.
The first two on the ground, a Marine lieutenant colonel and an Air Force master sergeant, have been working with the British and looking at U.S. security and equipment needs should the United States step up airlifts to Sierra Leone, Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said May 16. Five more service members arrived May 17 in the capital of Freetown.
Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said May 16 that a Air Force C-17 had delivered munitions to Sierra Leone from Jordan.
"We have offered to supply airlift to other countries, and should we do that, we just want an assessment of what's happening there," Bacon said. He said it was premature to suggest that U.S. service members would enter the African nation to provide security at Lungi airport, near Freetown.
Bacon said the British have 650 to 675 soldiers in the country and are sending their HMS Illustrious carrier battle group and HMS Ocean amphibious ready group into the area. "So, they will have a considerable force there," he said. "We may not have to do anything more." That's what the U.S. team needs to find out, he noted.
A civil war has been raging in the West African country for years. All order appears to have broken down in the country. Rebel forces have taken hundreds of U.N. peacekeepers hostage and killed four.