Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has revealed a second U.S. military assessment team has been sent to West Africa to prepare for possible American involvement in peacekeeping operations in Liberia.
The previously-undisclosed second mission involves a 10-person U.S. team that has been sent to Ghana to confer with officials of ECOWAS, the West African regional group that has offered 3,000 troops for a Liberian peacekeeping operation.
Appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Mr. Rumsfeld explains this assessment team's mission.
"To determine the readiness of the ECOWAS forces and the extent to which they may or may not be ready to deploy and over what period of time with what type of equipment, having had what type of training," said Mr. Rumsfeld.
Another U.S. military team is now in Liberia's capital, Monrovia, assessing security and humanitarian conditions.
But Mr. Rumsfeld says until both assessment teams return and report, he cannot predict what the Pentagon will propose to President Bush regarding the nature of U.S. participation in a Liberian peacekeeping mission.
The Bush administration has come under international pressure to send troops to help stabilize Liberia, a country founded by freed American slaves in the 19th century.
Travelling in Africa, President Bush has reiterated the U.S. commitment to Liberia, but stopped short of announcing a final decision on the deployment of American soldiers.