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US to Announce Creation of 'Joint Task Force Liberia'

An anouncement of a decision to send U.S. peacekeepers to Liberia appears to be imminent.

Military sources indicate an announcement is likely within the next 24 hours on the creation of what will be called "Joint Task Force Liberia."

Few details are known, including the critical question of when the force might be deployed.

But the sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, indicate it will involve an unspecified number of troops associated with the U.S. military's European Command, the regional headquarters unit that is responsible for most of Africa.

The sources say the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima may also be deployed to the waters off Liberia to serve as a platform for American peacekeepers. The Iwo Jima and two other vessels in its amphibious ready group were recently ordered into the Mediterranean from the Horn of Africa region, in a precautionary move tied to the crisis in Liberia.

But the military sources now suggest most if not all of the 2,300 Marines associated with the three-ship group may not be involved in the peacekeeping operation.

President Bush has previously indicated U.S. involvement in Liberia will be limited both in scope and duration.

West African leaders have announced they will soon send to Liberia two Nigerian battalions, up to 1300 men in all.

The move is likely to receive U.S. logistical support. Members of a U.S. military assessment team have been meeting with West African leaders to discuss the capabilities of regional forces to participate in a peacekeeping operation.

A second U.S. team has been in Liberia itself, assessing both the security and humanitarian situations there.

In addition, about 100 U.S. military personnel and four aircraft, three helicopters and one cargo plane are already in the region to provide transportation for the assessment teams and to assist in any evacuation operations.

Fighting has continued in Liberia between government troops and rebels, creating a humanitarian crisis.