View Full Version : U.S. Winds Down Liberia Mission, Warships Head Off

10-01-03, 06:00 AM
U.S. Winds Down Liberia Mission, Warships Head Off

Mon September 29, 2003 04:12 PM ET

By Will Dunham
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Deeming its mission has "largely been accomplished," the Pentagon is moving three warships away from Liberia as the United States winds down its role in the peacekeeping operation, officials said on Monday.

Defense officials said the dock-landing ship USS Carter Hall and the amphibious transport dock USS Nashville, together carrying 1,550 Navy sailors and Marines, sailed north away from the coast of the west African nation over the weekend.

The amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima, a helicopter carrier serving as lead vessel in the three-ship Amphibious Ready Group, was slated to sail midweek, perhaps on Wednesday, the officials said. The Iwo Jima is carrying 2,800 sailors and Marines.

There are about 100 U.S. troops on the ground in Liberia, most stationed to provide security at the U.S. Embassy in the capital Monrovia and "a handful" working in coordination with Ecomil peacekeepers from West African nations, one official said.

The Iwo Jima, Carter Hall and Nashville carried 2,300 Marines and gave President Bush the ability to place many more troops on the ground in Liberia than he eventually used. A defense official said there were never more than about 150 U.S. troops on the ground in Liberia during the operation.

One official said the three ships could "turn around and come right back if needed," but did not describe a situation that would prompt a return. The official said it was unclear when the roughly 100 remaining U.S. troops would leave.

With the U.S. military stretched thin amid commitments in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, Bush sent troops to Liberia to support peacekeepers from Nigeria and other countries and help create conditions under which humanitarian supplies could be delivered.

"Since our mission was to facilitate Ecomil efforts to stabilize Monrovia and create conditions for humanitarian relief efforts to resume, that mission has largely been accomplished," said Lt. Dan Hetlage, a Pentagon spokesman.

"Ecomil has more than 3,500 troops in Liberia now. They're in the countryside. They've got their own quick-reaction force," Hetlage added.

Bush in August promised that U.S. participation in Liberia would be "a limited mission of limited duration" and that U.S. forces would depart by Oct. 1.

Liberia, a country founded in the 19th century by freed American slaves, has been torn apart by years of civil war. Pariah leader Charles Taylor flew into exile in Nigeria last month.

The U.N. Security Council approved on Sept. 19 up to 15,000 peacekeepers for Liberia. West African troops were due to serve under a U.N. banner starting on Wednesday, and will be joined by troops from other nations. Nigeria has been the major player in peacekeeping efforts in Liberia, where its troops make up the bulk of the peacekeeping force.

In another development, the Pentagon said only one U.S. serviceman remained hospitalized in the aftermath of a spate of malaria cases among troops who served in the Liberia mission. Fifty-four cases were reported, and officials continue to investigate the cause.

The lone remaining patient is being treated at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, and has improved to the point that he has been taken out of the intensive care unit, the Pentagon said.

http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml;jsessionid=XYAOHGWU5GDCYCRBAEKSF FA?type=topNews&storyID=3526989