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US Marines on Standby for Deployment to Liberia - 2003-07-02

The Pentagon has put a special team of Marines on standby to protect Americans in the war-torn West African state of Liberia.

A U.S. defense official says "several dozen" Marines are on standby at a military base in Spain to deploy to Liberia if the security situation there continues to deteriorate.

The soldiers are part of a "fast team" trained as a quick action "anti-terrorism" force that could help Marines already guarding the U.S. embassy in Monrovia.

The defense official, who asked not to be identified, said the Pentagon has developed contingency plans to send as many as 2,000 troops to Liberia, where recent fighting has killed hundreds of civilians.

The official says President Bush has been presented with plans ranging from taking no action, to providing financial support to a peacekeeping force, to committing U.S. troops as peacekeepers.

International calls for U.S. intervention in Liberia intensified after the collapse of a cease-fire between rebels and the government of President Charles Taylor.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, British, and French officials are urging the United States to lead a peacekeeping mission.

President Bush could announce a decision before he leaves for a trip to Africa next week.