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Liberia: Peacekeepers Still Awaited
Africa Policy E-Journal
July 29, 2003 (030729)
Liberia: Peacekeepers Still Awaited
(Reposted from sources cited below)
This posting contains a news analysis from allAfrica.com on recent
developments in Liberia, where deadly fighting continues as the
U.S. continues to equivocate about the level of its involvement and
West African peacekeepers in turn remain on standby waiting for
For additional background, see the E-Journal posting sent out just
before President Bush's trip to Africa at
U.S. editorial opinion remains divided, with many citing fears of
"overextended" U.S. troops and the lack of strategic reasons for
engagement, while others note the humanitarian imperatives,
expectations for U.S. leadership, and U.S. special obligations to
Liberia. Many cite the U.S. historical involvement in the founding
of Liberia, but very few note the U.S. engagement during the Cold
War in setting the stage for chaos by pouring in resources for
Liberian strongmen willing to serve as Cold War pawns.
For recent commentary from Africa Action on Liberia and on
President Bush's trip to Africa see
New items recently added include Salih Booker in a segment on
Liberia on the PBS Newshour (July 22, 2003) and an op-ed in The
Providence Journal (July 28, 2003) by William Minter, "More
hypocrisy on AIDS, Liberia - Bush's disappointing trip to Africa."
Bush Makes Symbolic Shift on Liberia, But Dying Continues
http://allAfrica.com [reposted with permission]
July 28, 2003
By Reed Kramer
President George Bush's weekend decision to position "appropriate
military capabilities" off the coast of Liberia is at least a
symbolic shift in U.S. policy towards African conflicts.
During 14 years of turmoil in Liberia, which spilled violence and
instability across the region, only Liberia's neighbors in Ecowas,
the Economic Community of West African States, attempted to
intervene. Amid the worsening conflict of the last few months, none
of the key international players seemed able or willing to act
The impasse has plunged an already devastated nation into a
catastrophic humanitarian crisis. Although Washington is now
positioning a three-ship naval assault group with 2,300 Marines on
board within reach of the conflict, the White House emphasized that
U.S. involvement "will be limited in time and scope."
Further clarifying what those limits are, Deputy Defense Secretary
Paul Wolfowitz said Sunday that U.S. troops will only enter Liberia
"when there's a cease-fire, when Charles Taylor is leaving, has
left" and in support of West African troops. He denied that meant
Washington is shirking its responsibilities. "We're not hanging
back from assisting," he said during an appearance on Fox News. "We
are assisting, and we're taking responsibility in Liberia that the
British have taken in Sierra Leone, and the French in the Ivory
Whether that level of engagement will be sufficient to end the
fighting, and whether and how quickly West African forces can take
up positions in Monrovia, the Liberian capital, are questions that
remain to be answered.
At the beginning of July, with a negotiated ceasefire that was
two-weeks old and holding, prospects for easing the widespread
suffering appeared reasonably good. Negotiations that produced the
truce between government and rebel forces were advancing towards
agreement on a transitional plan and an interim administration to
run Liberia until elections in 18 to 24 months.
Ecowas, the 15-nation grouping whose members include Liberia, was
spearheading the peace talks and laying plans to dispatch a
3,000-strong stabilization force to disarm the warring parties and
demobilize combatants. The American president, on the eve of his
departure on a five-nation Africa tour, signaled a willingness to
assist Ecowas in implementing its peacemaking role.
But the past three weeks produced neither a peace accord nor a
peacekeeping intervention. Instead, a resumption in the battle for
control of Monrovia has left hundreds of noncombatant civilians
dead in a week of fighting. A large number of the city's one
million residents have been forced from their homes. Most lack
access to food and water, and health care is almost non-existent.
The humanitarian operations that had been keeping thousands of
people alive in the capital came to a halt, as fighting cut off
access to the civilian population.
"We can no longer continue our supply of potable water, nor
construct latrines and bath-houses," Sam Nagbe, project officer in
Monrovia for Oxfam, reported on Tuesday. He said Oxfam staff and
their families were themselves running out of water and food. "I am
seriously hoping this situation will not last too long."
But with only a brief lull on Friday, fighting raged through the
week. The rebel group known as Liberians United for Reconciliation
and Democracy (Lurd) continued its drive towards the center of the
city, the only area still controlled by the government of President
In a telephone conversation with AllAfrica on July 19, just after
heavy fighting resumed, Lurd leader Sekou Damate Konneh claimed his
forces had been provoked. "Taylor has been attacking us every day,"
Sirleaf Withdraws As Decision on Interim Leadership Stalls
As the battle for Monrovia raged, negotiations stalled. The talks
in Accra, Ghana, among government and rebel representatives,
Liberia's political parties and non-governmental organizations,
failed to produce a final accord on how the country should be
President Bush has made Taylor's leaving the country a precondition
for U.S. involvement in Liberian peacekeeping, but hopes for his
voluntary departure seemed remote. Last month a United
Nations-backed court in Sierra Leone indicted him for war crimes in
connection with the civil war in Sierra Leone, Liberia's next-door
neighbor. While welcomed by international human rights groups, the
indictment complicated negotiations for the Liberian president's
withdrawal to a safe haven outside Liberia.
Three weeks ago, under both military and political pressure, Taylor
accepted an offer of asylum from Nigerian President Olusegun
Obasanjo, but he has made no apparent move to leave.
Frustration with the peace talks and with the lack of effective
action by the world community has been growing. Bitterness is
focused particularly against the United States, which is seen by
the rest of the world as the natural guardian for the country
founded in 1822 by freed American slaves.
"People are getting increasingly angry with the U.S. reluctance to
intervene. They say Liberians have always stood up for the U.S,"
Oxfam's Nagbe said in an online journal on Friday. "It's true," he
added, citing the long history of Liberian support for American
positions throughout two World Wars and throughout the Cold War
"People in Monrovia are very angry," said Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a
former Liberian finance minister and investment banker, who has
also served as an assistant secretary general of the United
Nations. "They are dying, and they cannot understand why there has
been no response."
Sirleaf, who has had a prominent role in the Accra negotiations,
announced Friday that she is no longer willing to be considered to
head the proposed interim administration that is supposed to emerge
from the Ecowas-mediated talks. "The process has gone on too long,"
she said in a telephone interview with AllAfrica. "I want to turn
my efforts towards alleviating the humanitarian disaster." She said
she will visit Washington and New York to advocate for a more
robust response to the tragedy.
West Africa Poised to Act?
General Abdulsalami Abubakar, the former Nigerian military head of
state who is the Ecowas chief negotiator, has indicated he would
like to see agreement on the mandate and composition of the interim
administration during the coming week. While a number of issues
have been settled, key questions remain undecided. The rebel
movements, Lurd and a second group called the Movement for
Democracy in Liberia (Model), are unhappy that they are being
denied a major role in the interim administration.
The Liberian government has been insisting on a "constitutional"
handover when Taylor leaves. Last week Taylor told Somini Sengupta
of the New York Times that he planned to depart in 10 days and
would hand power to the speaker of the Liberian House of
Representatives, Yundueh Monorkomna.
Liberia's rebel movements and political parties reject that
scenario, insisting on a complete break with Taylor's rule. The
peace accord document drafted in Accra says that Taylor's
presidential term will end on August 1, six years after he was
sworn into office following the 1997 elections he won with 75 per
cent of the vote, bringing a temporary end to seven years of civil
warfare. Delegates to the Accra talks are likely to tap one of
Liberia's veteran politicians to lead the government during the
In an attempt to move the peace process forward, West African
leaders scheduled a meeting for Monday to decide on sending the
first contingent of troops to Liberia. Ghana's President John
Kufuor, the Ecowas chairman, is leading consultations with senior
military officers from the region.
Nigeria has offered some 1,300 troops currently stationed in Sierra
Leone. Ghana and Mali may contribute another 200 or so soldiers to
this initial force, which will have a Nigerian commander, Brigadier
General Festus Okonkwo.
Although Nigeria has the personnel to carry out the peacekeeping
mission, winning support at home is a delicate political issue for
President Obasanjo, who has insisted that Nigeria's involvement be
funded by the international community. During the 1990s, when the
military ran its government, Nigeria spent more than US $8 billion
on peacekeeping in Liberia and Sierra Leone, according to a senior
Nigerian official quoted by the United Nations Integrated Regional
Information Networks (IRIN).
Financial arrangements and other details of the new mission were
discussed last week in Dakar, Senegal by Ecowas ministers, along
with U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Pamela Bridgewater
and other American officials. Finding common ground on an
acceptable price tag has proven to be difficult, with the Ecowas
budget for troop salaries and on-the-ground operations reportedly
totaling more than $100 million.
The State Department announced Friday an initial contribution of
$10 million for logistics support to be provided by a private
contractor, Los Angeles-based Pacific Architects and Engineers
(PAE), whose work with the U.S. government dates back to the
Vietnam War. "We provided similar funding for work this firm did in
Sierra Leone and Cote d'Ivoire," State Department spokesperson
Richard Boucher said. The company will assist with transportation,
equipment and communications for the Ecowas force, he said.
Another American company, Northbridge Services, founded by retired
British and American soldiers, has offered to send a security team
to Liberia to intervene in the fighting, the Financial Times
reported last week.
Heavy U.S. Firepower in the Neighborhood
"We're deeply concerned that the condition of the Liberian people
is getting worse and worse and worse," Bush said on Friday,
following the announcement of U.S. ship deployments. "Our
commitment is to enable ECOWAS to go in," he said, so that
humanitarian aid can get to those in need.
In response to the president's decision, the Pentagon dispatched an
Amphibious Ready Group, led by the USS Iwo Jima, an 844-foot (255
meters) amphibious assault ship equipped with armed helicopter and
attack aircraft. Accompanying the battleship is the USS Carter
Hall, which the Navy says is designed for supporting landings "onto
hostile shores by transporting and launching amphibious craft and
vehicles." A third ship, the USS Nashville, which can transport a
landing force onto shore, is also moving towards the West African
coast, a few days behind the other two, Pentagon officials said.
The ships carry over 1,000 Navy officers and sailors and about
2,300 Marines from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit,
headquartered at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina but most recently
based in Djibouti, East Africa.
The decision to send the ships and soldiers to Liberia has been
opposed by senior Defense Department officials on the grounds that
no direct U.S. interests are at stake in Liberia and that U.S.
forces are spread thin by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and
other commitments around the globe. This is happening at a time
when the Pentagon has been redeploying forces and negotiating new
base access agreements in several parts of the African continent.
The United States has to deal "with a large number of unstable
places in the world," said Wolfowitz, who is the number two
official in the Pentagon and an influential Bush advisers. For
Liberia, the administration wants the United Nations to take
responsibility, along with West African states, and also wants to
know '"we're assisting a situation that's on the road to a
Reservations about involvement in Liberia were voiced forcefully by
the chairman and vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the
highest-ranking officers in the U.S. chain of command, during U.S.
Senate hearings last Thursday on their re-nominations to the posts.
"It's not a pretty situation," Air Force Gen. Richard Myers told
the Senate Armed Services Committee when he was asked about
Liberia. It's not going to give way to any instant fix. Whatever
the fix is going to be is going to have to be a long-term fix."
"It is potentially a very dangerous situation," Marine Gen. Peter
Pace, Myers' deputy, told the committee. "If we're asked to do
something militarily, we need to make sure we do it with the proper
numbers of troops and that we be prepared for the eventualities of
having to take military action."
In a similar vein, Princeton Lyman, a former U.S. ambassador to
Nigeria and South Africa and senior State Department official who
is now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, has
warned against "doing it on the cheap in Liberia." Writing in the
Washington Post on July 19, he said 1,500 to 2,000 U.S. troops
should be used to support a West African force of 2,000 to 3,000
and that "we should plan to stay nine to 12 months."
Lyman, however, strongly urged that the United States take action.
"Doing Liberia right will redound to America's credit throughout
Africa," Lyman wrote. "It will give substance to President Bush's
many promises of help during his recent trip and strengthen African
support in the war against terrorism."
Two days earlier, speaking in support of U.S. involvement at the
American Enterprise Institute, U.S Army Special Forces Major Roger
Carstens argued that U.S. "interests and values match" in Liberia,
and an intervention to help end the suffering and fighting would
"strike a blow in the war on terrorism."
The intervention could be accomplished without a large military
outlay, helped by the fact that "everybody wants us to be there,"
Carstens said, speaking in a private, not official capacity. An
instructor in guerrilla warfare at Fort Bragg, Carstens said "a
small number of Special Forces units and a Marine amphibious strike
force" could deal effectively with the Liberian insurgency, in much
the same way that the British did in Sierra Leone in 2000. Emphasis
should be given to humanitarian aid and restoration of basic
services, relying on civil affairs and psychological operations
specialists in the U.S. military, he said.
James Woods, who spent 34 years in the Defense Department, said the
Pentagon's reservations are understandable but misplaced. "We
cannot 'do nothing' all over again," he said in an interview,
referring to the first Bush administration's refusal to intervene
militarily or diplomatically to halt the Liberian civil war in
1990. As the conflict deepened late that year, a four-ship task
force with a Marine amphibious unit was anchored within sight of
Monrovia residents, but the troops were used only to evacuate
foreigners from America embassy grounds.
Following Bush's trip to Africa and the comments he made, "the
president's credibility is on the line," said Woods, who served as
deputy assistant secretary of Defense for African Affairs from 1986
to 1994. "We should have done it two weeks ago," before fighting
resumed, he said.
In their comments to Congress, Generals Myers and Pace contradicted
"what their own assessment team told them," Woods said. The report
drafted by the military team, which spent more than a week in
Liberia, was rejected by senior Pentagon officials. According to
government sources, the conclusions favored a rapid deployment of
a mid-size force to pave the way for West African troops to come in
and separate the factions.
The Pentagon said the ships that are en route to the area will take
seven days or more to reach the Liberian coast. Once they arrive,
pressure to put 'boots on the ground' will inevitably mount,
especially if the humanitarian crisis worsens, as seems almost
certain. But opposition will continue, not only within the
administration but also from Republican members of Congress who
have already expressed doubts.
The Congressional Black Caucus is trying to mobilize
counter-pressure, although the group, all Democrats, has limited
political clout with the current administration and Congressional
leadership. Rep. Donald Payne from New Jersey has introduced a
resolution in the House calling for an International Stabilization
Force for Liberia, to be formed in cooperation with Ecowas, the
United Nations, and the African Union.
If that doesn't happen, he told Australian television last week,
"it will be a catastrophe. Tens of thousands will die."
Date distributed (ymd): 030729
Region: West Africa
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +security/peace+ +US policy focus+
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