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No U.S. troops to Liberia until Taylor leaves

From Barbara Starr
CNN Pentagon

Annan and Bush meet in Washington Monday.
Annan and Bush meet in Washington Monday.

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U.N. chief Kofi Annan and President Bush discuss the role of U.S. troops in Liberia.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush said Monday that the United States would commit no troops to Liberia until President Charles Taylor leaves the West African country.

After a meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Bush said, "We want to enable ECOWAS to get in and help create the conditions necessary for the cease-fire to hold, that Mr. Taylor must leave, that we'll participate with the troops."

The president also said the United States is assessing the situation in Liberia in order to determine its role there, assisting a peacekeeping force of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

"We're in the process still of determining what is necessary, what ECOWAS can bring to the table, when they can bring it to the table, what is the timetable, and be able to match the necessary U.S. help to expediting the ECOWAS' participation," Bush said.

The president also supported a U.N. role in Liberia, although he stressed U.S. forces would operate separately.

"I told the secretary-general that we want to help, that there must be a U.N. presence quickly into Liberia. He and I discussed how fast it would take to 'blue helmet' whatever forces arrived -- other than our own, of course," said Bush. He pointed out that U.S. forces "would be there to facilitate" the task of a U.N. contingent and then leave.

Previously, U.S. military sources said that more U.S. military personnel and equipment was heading to Liberia.

The U.S. European Command has sent more than 100 military personnel, three HH-60 helicopters and a C-130 aircraft to West Africa to support a 50-man U.S. military humanitarian assessment team already in Liberia, the sources said Monday.

Bush sent the military assessment team to determine whether U.S. peacekeeping troops should be deployed to maintain a delicate cease-fire there between national forces and rebels.

Fighting has forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes. Many have sought refuge in Monrovia, where they have virtually no food or water and sanitary facilities are poor.

Nearby Nigeria has offered Taylor asylum. He has agreed to step down but has offered no timetable.

A U.N.-backed special court in Sierra Leone indicted Taylor on war crimes charges in June, accusing him of arming and training rebels in exchange for diamonds during Sierra Leone's 10-year civil war that, according to the U.S. government left 50,000 people dead. Taylor denies the charges.

The U.S. helicopters and personnel en route to the region will operate between Sierra Leone, Senegal and Liberia, the U.S. military sources said. The aircraft will allow the assessment team to move about more freely.

Most of the additional personnel are crews and support and maintenance specialists for the aircraft. Until now, U.S. troops in the region had relied on helicopters hired locally for brief periods, according to the sources.

Some additional U.S. military personnel are also in the region, working out of Ghana, to determine what military forces from West African nations might contribute, U.S. military sources said.

In addition, the top U.S. European Command special operations commander has been sent to the region to talk with regional military forces and to assess their capabilities, the sources said.

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