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US Praises Peacekeeping Effort in Liberia - 2003-09-05

A top U.S military commander is praising the peacekeeping mission in Liberia led by West African troops and predicts it will have a lasting, stabilizing effect in the region.

General Charles Wald says what West Africa's ECOWAS forces have done in Liberia, in his view, is "really fantastic." He calls their mission a big success story and predicts it will have a long-term stabilizing impact in the region.

The comments of the deputy commander of the U.S. military's European Command, which is responsible for much of Africa, came this week in a meeting with a small group of defense writers in Washington.

General Wald said Nigeria, Mali, Senegal and other countries involved in the Liberia mission acted because it is good for them.

But he also acknowledges the effort was good for the United States as well.

The general said American forces deployed to the region in support of the West African forces hope to head home in a few weeks when command of the peacekeeping mission is turned over to the United Nations.

The U.S. presence numbered close to 5,000 personnel, most of them on a three-ship amphibious assault group anchored off the Liberian coast. Of that number, only some 200 actually went ashore.

Still, General Wald says the Americans gave the West African forces what he characterizes as a "security blanket."

But General Wald voices optimism that next time there is a crisis on the continent, African troops will be able to act on their own. He believes the Liberia experience has shown them they can do it.

The senior military commander discloses that both Rwanda and South Africa have offered support for future peacekeeping operations in Liberia. He says Rwanda has offered troops and South Africa has offered ships and helicopters.