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U.S. Planning for Intervention in Liberia

By Pauline Jelinek, Associated Press, Washington Post, Thursday, 3 July 2003; 4:36 PM

WASHINGTON—The U.S. military commander in Europe has been ordered to begin planning for possible American intervention in Liberia, officials said Thursday, as President Bush and his advisers weighed political, diplomatic and military options for responding to Liberian conflict.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said he was consulting the United Nations and leaders in Africa, and Bush’s National Security Council struggled with the issue for a third day.

Powell spoke of a severe humanitarian crisis emerging in Liberia as well as the safety of American diplomats there, and said, All of these factors are being taken into consideration.

Options on the table ranged from sending no troops to sending thousands, defense officials said.

Some in the administration have suggested that sending a contingent of several dozen soldiers to the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia along with stepped-up diplomatic efforts might suffice. In line with that, Bush and other U.S. officials were pressing the effort to persuade Liberian President Charles Taylor to leave the country.

Bush said he would not be rushed into making a decision before he leaves Monday evening for a five-country African tour. He called anew for Taylor to leave.

A condition for any progress in Liberia is his removal, his removing himself, Bush said in an interview with African journalists.

I’m in the process now of gathering the information necessary to make a rational decision as to how to bring—how to enforce the cease-fire, to keep the cease-fire in place, Bush said.

He spoke of America’s unique history with Liberia, which was founded by freed American slaves, saying there was a greater sense of expectations of U.S. help.

Indeed, outside the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia, protesters pleaded for American intervention as well as Taylor’s ouster.

At the White House, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice ticked off reasons why Liberia’s situation might meet Bush’s tests for sending troops.

Stability there could be vital to progress on the continent, she said, and helping the country now could avert a disaster like that in Rwanda in the mid-1990s.

We’ve also recognized since 9-11 that one wants to be careful about permitting conditions of failed states to create conditions in which there’s so much instability that you begin to see greater sources of terrorism, she said.

But an America president is always reluctant to have forces go anywhere, she said.

At the State Department, spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States had been in touch with Nigeria, which had offered Taylor asylum.

Hundreds of civilians in Monrovia were killed last month, and more than 1 million Liberians have been displaced in the latest round of fighting, started three years ago as rebels began trying to oust Taylor, who won contested elections.

Sending at least some U.S. troops appeared Thursday to be a strong possibility. The American military commander in Europe was ordered to begin planning for possible intervention.

A directive called a warning order was sent overnight to Gen. James Jones, asking him to give the Pentagon his estimate of how the situation in the West African nation might be handled, defense officials said on condition of anonymity.

Bush was trying to decide how to respond to international pressure that he send 2,000 troops to help enforce a cease-fire in the country.

Other military options were to send 500 to 1,000 Americans who might coordinate logistics for any peacekeeper mission, provide it with communications equipment, further evaluate the situation in Liberia, assist non-governmental organizations there and so on, two defense officials said.

Taking that role, rather than the lead in a peacekeeping force, would allow the United States to keep down the number of Americans required—a big consideration with so many already deployed for stabilization in postwar Iraq and for the counterterror war.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said he would like to see the United States lead a multinational peacekeeping force, sending some 2,000 to lead another 3,000 offered by various African nations. France, Britain and both sides in Liberia’s fighting also have pushed for an American role.

Senate Armed Services Chairman John Warner, R-va., said the additional deployment of U.S. troops would be manageable, but should be approached cautiously.

We must look very prudently when we ask more of them, he said. Warner spoke at a news conference with senators just returned from Iraq.

The committee’s top Democrat, Carl Levin of Michigan, said he was concerned about U.S. troops being stretched too thin though was willing to consider such a mission if other countries would help the United States in Iraq.

Former President Carter welcomed Bush’s statements of determination to help Liberians.

U.S. leadership can and should extend to the deployment of U.S. forces in support of a multinational humanitarian intervention, Carter said.