U.S. military officers will meet with West African officials this weekend to discuss the possible use of U.S. troops in a peacekeeping force for Liberia.
With pressure mounting on the Bush administration to make a decision on Liberia, Secretary of State Colin Powell says the president is still examining all options to assist in the peaceful transfer of power once Liberian President Charles Taylor leaves office.
Secretary Powell said U.S. officials will meet with leaders of the Economic Community of West African States in Ghana this weekend to discuss what role U.S. troops might play in Liberia as well as what role ECOWAS thinks U.S. troops should play.
"The president hasn't made any specific decisions on the level of support or actual participation, boots on the ground, combat units is the essence of your question," he said. "I expect that over the next several days as we finish the assessment in Monrovia and get that report and the military assessment team working with ECOWAS over the weekend, the president will be in a position to make a decision."
Secretary Powell stressed that the Bush administration has made clear that any U.S. involvement would be in support of regional efforts and not to take the lead in peacekeeping.
"If there is U.S. participation, particularly on the ground, we fully expect and have made it clear to our friends in the international community, ECOWAS and the U.N., that we see it as being very limited in duration and scope and really for the purpose of getting ECOWAS in there in sufficient strength to do the long-term rebuilding effort, stabilization effort," he pointed out.
Mr. Powell added that Liberians are suffering under what he calls a "terrible dictatorship" and he hopes President Taylor will leave office once regional peacekeepers arrive in the capital Monrovia.
"The arrival of the ECOWAS force would have to be facilitated and supported in some way by the United States," he said. "Whether that is just with logistics units or command and control units or communications facilities or support of that kind or whether there would actually be U.S. troops on the ground, the intention right now is to lead with ECOWAS."
What to do in Liberia is expected to dominate Mr. Bush's talks in Nigeria Saturday with President Olusegun Obasanjo. Nigeria and Ghana dominated the West African force sent to Liberia in the early 1990s and are again expected to make up the bulk of a regional peacekeeping force.