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US Congress Weighs Possible Military Action in Liberia - 2003-07-08

As President Bush considers whether to send U.S. troops to serve in a peacekeeping force in Liberia, members of Congress are pressing the administration about the aim and the duration of such a mission. U.S. officials are briefing lawmakers about the matter this week.

Although President Bush, who is traveling in Africa this week, says he has not yet decided whether to send U.S. troops to Liberia, his administration is discussing the possibility with lawmakers.

Vice-President Dick Cheney briefed Senate Republican leaders Tuesday.

Among them was Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who expressed some hesitation over deploying American soldiers to the West African nation at a time when U.S. troops are making slow progress in stabilizing and reconstructing Iraq and Afghanistan. "I have some concerns about stretching our forces too thin at this time," he pointed out.

Army and Navy officials discussed Liberia with members of the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier in the day in closed session, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will hold a briefing for members of Congress later this week.

The United States is facing increasing international pressure to send peacekeeping troops to Liberia, a nation founded by freed American slaves in the 19th century. But Washington is hesitant about becoming too involved in an African conflict, a decade after 18 U.S. peacekeeping troops were killed in a clash with local militias in Mogadishu, Somalia.

A U.S. team arrived in Monrovia Monday to assess the situation ahead of possible U.S. deployment of troops.

Most lawmakers remain open-minded about sending peacekeeping troops to Liberia. But many of them, including Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Texas Republican, want to know the purpose and the duration of such a mission.

"We certainly want to hear what the reasons are, what the climate is, and what would be the timetable," she said.

Senator Hutchison urged that any U.S. participation in a peacekeeping force be part of an overall international mission. Her comments were echoed by the Senate's top Democrat, Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota, who also said he was open to the idea.

"I think there is a widespread recognition that there is a great deal of American interest in that country, and finding the right way to resolve it and address it is important," he said. "I would hope though that we would again recognize the need for multilateral approaches to solutions such as this."