View Full Version : Peacekeeping begins for Marine contingent in Liberia

08-17-03, 08:33 AM
August 15, 2003

Peacekeeping begins for Marine contingent in Liberia

By Edward Harris
Associated Press

MONROVIA, Liberia — Marines in Liberia went about the workaday tasks Friday of America’s first peace mission in Africa in a decade, patrolling new razor-wire perimeters and guarding the first in a convoy of aid ships.
For now, the task seems straightforward: “Trying to get the boats in the port,” said Maj. Leonard DeFrancisci of Melbourne, Fla., a reservist with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

Friday marked the first full day ashore for about 200 U.S. troops, who landed by helicopter from three ships offshore after President Charles Taylor, bowing to international pressure, resigned and left his country.

For U.S. forces, it is the first humanitarian mission in Africa since Somali fighters killed 18 U.S. troops in Mogadishu in 1993, an event depicted in the book and movie “Black Hawk Down.”

The deaths in Somalia prompted the U.S. government to withdraw its troops and to have a lingering reluctance to get deeply involved in Africa.

“We’ve all seen the movie,” said Capt. James Jarvis, a spokesman for the 26th Marines at Liberia’s main airport. “But in this day and age, you try to help people when you can.”

Marines guarded the airport’s landing strip Friday, securing it for flights of West African troops and aid.

Deployment at the airport freed a stretched-thin West African peace force, now at roughly 1,500 men, for duties in Monrovia — where hungry crowds on Friday broke through the front line that split the city during the 10-week rebel siege.

A 150-member U.S. rapid-reaction force was on standby at the airport, ready to fly out by helicopter if the Nigerian-led peace force came under attack anywhere, Jarvis said.

On Thursday, a Navy SEAL team scoured the trash-strewn water at the port, making sure it was safe for ships carrying aid to the hungry capital.

About 40 Marines helped West African forces guard the heavily looted, badly damaged port.

After pounding stakes Thursday to erect razor-wire fences, Marines patrolled the port barricades Friday, or sought shade in dilapidated buildings.

Within blocks of the Marines, rebel fighters lingered, despite a pledge by their leaders to withdraw from the city.

“The country’s in shambles,” Sgt. Nathen Baker, 23, of Olean, N.Y., said at the airport. “We’re trying to keep the peace.”

Many of the Marines, including Jarvis, served in Afghanistan. The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit deployed in Iraq as well, at the northern city of Mosul, but few here were part of that mission.

The limited size and role of the U.S. troops’ mission means they take a back seat to West African forces in Liberia.

“We like it that the Americans are flying to protect us. But why don’t they come down with us and see our hunger?” Emmanuel S. Cooper, a 22-year-old unemployed university graduate, asked as he crossed Monrovia’s newly opened front-line to look for beans, rice and oil.

The presence of the heavily armed Marines, backed by planes and ships, has already helped cow fighters on both sides — militias more accustomed to attacking civilians than disciplined fighting.

“The streets have gotten quieter,” Jarvis said. “This is what the people have been waiting for.”

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press.