View Full Version : Bush: U.S. Ships Positioned for Possible Liberia Duty

07-25-03, 11:08 AM
Bush: U.S. Ships Positioned for Possible Liberia Duty

Fri July 25, 2003 11:55 AM ET

By Patricia Wilson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Bush has ordered the Pentagon to position "appropriate military capabilities" off the coast of Liberia to support a West African peacekeeping mission in the war-torn country, the White House said on Friday.

"The U.S. role will be limited in time and scope as multinational forces under the United Nations assume the responsibility for peacekeeping and as the United States arranges a political transition in Liberia," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said in a written statement.

The statement did not specify what the military capabilities were but a Pentagon spokesman said on Thursday the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima, leading a three-ship group carrying 2,300 Marines, had entered the Mediterranean Sea for possible duty in a Liberia operation.

The three ships had been ordered to deploy to the Mediterranean to be in a position so that if called upon they could respond to the situation in Liberia, said Lt. Daniel Hetlage, a Pentagon spokesman.

Hetlage said the ships "have no further orders" on any Liberia mission. "It's not a given that if a decision was made by the president, that it would have to be the Iwo Jima ARG (Amphibious Ready Group). There are other options."

"Today, the president has directed the Secretary of Defense to position appropriate military capabilities off the coast of Liberia in order to support the deployment of an ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) force once it is generated," the White House statement said.

An initial battalion of 770 Nigerian soldiers was expected to go to Liberia in 7 to 10 days using transport borrowed from the United Nations operation in Sierra Leone. A second battalion of about 600 to 700 troops was expected to go into Liberia through Lagos.

But West African countries failed on Friday to agree on a date for troops to move in.

Bush, who has pledged $10 million to support the ECOWAS mission, was looking at other ways to help but has made no decision on committing U.S. combat troops on the ground, McClellan said.

Despite a sense of urgency prompted by anarchy and violence in the streets of Monrovia, Liberia's capital, and Bush's vow of two weeks ago that the United States would "participate," McClellan said "there's planning that has to made" and discussions were ongoing.

"We remain actively engaged in talks with ECOWAS and the United Nations," he told reporters. "We have already announced funding for the ECOWAS vanguard force. ... We are having ongoing discussions to determine other ways we can support the ECOWAS mission."

Secretary of State Colin Powell has called for the speedy deployment of troops to the West African nation, where rebels are battling forces loyal to President Charles Taylor. Mortar bombs pounded Monrovia on Friday, killing at least 12 people, and the calls for international help grew louder.

Already stretched by troop deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq, where U.S. soldiers are dying almost daily, the Pentagon is believed to be reluctant to commit combat troops.

"It's potentially a dangerous situation," Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters on Thursday. "It may be that we go in in terms of support for the ECOWAS forces."

http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml;jsessionid=MSBEIDES141V4CRBAEZSF EY?type=topNews&storyID=3161167