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Pentagon Announces Possible Increase in US Troops in Liberia - 2003-08-12


Pentagon officials say the number of American military personnel sent in to Liberia could grow in the coming days.

A senior Pentagon official says small numbers of American military personnel could be sent in to Liberia soon to assist West African peacekeepers already in the war-torn country.

The senior official, speaking on condition of anonymity, indicates one likely mission would be the dispatch of an engineering assessment team to the port of Monrovia, considered crucial to the delivery of large quantities of humanitarian aid.

Other defense sources hint such a team could go into the port as early as Wednesday, possibly backed by a Marine security unit from the USS Iwo Jima, one of three Navy ships now stationed just off the coast.

While the senior official stresses that Pentagon planners envisage only small, incremental increases in the size of the military contingent in Monrovia, he acknowledges that in an emergency the situation could change quickly.

Fewer than 100 U.S. military personnel are now in the Liberian capital, most of them security forces at the U.S. embassy compound with a small number of troops acting as a liaison unit with Nigerian peacekeepers.

But the senior Pentagon official concedes if there is trouble, the Marine contingent of 2,300 aboard the three-ship Iwo Jima amphibious ready group could act as a quick reaction force.

His comments underscore those of another top defense official who tells VOA the decision to move the Iwo Jima group within sight of shore is intended as a warning to anyone who might threaten the restoration of security and stability in Liberia. In this official's words, it is a presence that is available and ready should things get out of control.

The two officials' comments coincide with a visit to Monrovia Monday by Army Major General Thomas Turner, the commander of what Pentagon officials now acknowledge is called Joint Task Force Liberia, "Joint" indicating it is a multi-service operation.

The general's trip came the day after Liberian President Charles Taylor relinquished power and flew into exile in Nigeria.