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Pentagon Sources:  US Assessment Team's Stay  in Liberia Open-Ended


The U.S. military team dispatched to Liberia to assess conditions for a possible peacekeeping operation with the participation of American troops is likely to remain in the West African country indefinitely.

Defense sources say the U.S. military assessment team is likely to stay in Liberia for the foreseeable future and possibly until a peacekeeping force is deployed.

These sources, speaking to VOA on condition of anonymity, say there is a feeling if the 30-member team was to leave the country now, it would send a bad signal, perhaps prompting President Charles Taylor to stay on despite his promise to step down and leave.

Mr. Taylor has accepted an offer of asylum in Nigeria but has said he will only leave Liberia after peacekeeping troops arrived.

The U.S. assessment team arrived in Liberia a week ago on what defense officials have said was a one to two week mission.

A second, smaller assessment team has been dispatched to Ghana to determine what military resources countries of the West African regional grouping ECOWAS could contribute to a peacekeeping operation.

In addition to the two U.S. assessment teams, four military aircraft and about 100 American military personnel have also been sent to West Africa to provide transportation for the teams.

President Bush has said it may be necessary to send U.S. troops to Liberia for such an operation. But he has also indicated any U.S. deployment will be limited in size and duration.

Pentagon spokesman Larry DiRita says Mr. Bush has still made no decisions about American participation.

Rebels in Liberia are calling for U.S. forces to have an overwhelming presence to provide psychological comfort and to signal an end to the country's long civil war.