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Commander of US Joint Task Force Goes Ashore in Liberia - 2003-08-12


The Commander of the U.S. Joint Task Force off the coast of Liberia has gone ashore but Pentagon officials caution there has been no decision to increase the American military presence.

Army Major General Thomas Turner traveled into Monrovia from the USS Iwo Jima, one of three ships in the U.S. amphibious assault group now stationed just off the coast of the Liberian capital.

Pentagon officials say the general will coordinate with various figures, including members of the U.S. military assessment team already in Monrovia. The officials say he will focus in particular on coordinating whatever support President Bush decides to provide to West African peacekeepers taking up position in the country.

The general's arrival comes the day after President Charles Taylor relinquished power and flew into exile in Nigeria.

Defense officials say they expect General Turner to come and go from the Iwo Jima for further talks in the days ahead, but stress there has been no decision to increase the U.S. military presence of fewer than 100 personnel on the ground in Liberia. Most of these are security guards at the U.S. embassy compound but a small group is acting as a liaison team with Nigerian peacekeepers.

General Turner is the commander of what Pentagon officials now acknowledge is called Joint Task Force Liberia. "Joint" indicating it is a multiple service operation.

The general is, for example, commander of the U.S. Army's Southern European Airborne Task Force. But the Liberia group he is in charge of includes some 2,000 Navy personnel and 2,300 Marines aboard the Iwo Jima and its sister ships.

Those ships moved to within sight of the Liberian capital on Monday as President Taylor was leaving.

A senior Pentagon official says the move is intended to send a signal to anyone who might jeopardize the restoration of security and stability in Liberia. In the official's words, it is a presence that is available and ready should things get out of control.