U.S. team to assess support mission in Liberia
No decision made on U.S. troop deployment
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A team of about 10 U.S. military personnel is expected to arrive in Liberia Wednesday to liaise with an initial contingent of Nigerian peacekeepers to determine what support the United States might offer, Bush administration sources told CNN.
Sources strongly emphasized this is not a precursor to any U.S. military deployment, characterizing it as an initial effort to mediate with 300 Nigerian peacekeepers on the ground in the war-torn West African country.
The U.S. team is expected to go to the airport near Monrovia where the peacekeepers have set up base, the sources said Tuesday.
These sources also said U.S. ships carrying 2,000 Marines 100 miles off the coast of Liberia are expected to move within 40 miles of shore, a distance that will still keep them out of sight.
The ship movement should not be viewed as an indicator of any possible U.S. military action, the sources said.
With the Nigerian peacekeepers in Liberia, the Bush administration ratcheted up its calls for President Charles Taylor -- who was indicted in June by a U.N.-backed war crimes court in neighboring Sierra Leone -- to leave the country.
The intensifying rhetoric came as observers remained unconvinced Taylor would go into exile in Nigeria.
Reuters news agency quoted a spokesman for Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo as saying that Taylor will leave Liberia only "if the international court drops the war crimes charges against him."
Taylor on Saturday said he would leave office next Monday and hand over power to a successor who is to be chosen later this week by the country's National Assembly. He refused, however, to say whether he would honor a pledge he made last month to leave.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Tuesday: "Our position is clear. He needs to leave the country. And that's first thing."
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ridiculed Taylor as someone who "has had something to say for the past period of weeks" and who seemingly changes statements each time.
The unanimous opinion, Rumsfeld said Tuesday, is that it "would be best for the country if he were to leave."
"Whether or not he will, time will tell," the defense secretary said.
Taylor has been indicted for his support of a guerrilla war in Sierra Leone on charges he armed and trained rebels in exchange for diamonds. During the country's 10 years of civil war, an estimated 50,000 people died.
"I've heard of nothing to suggest that the charges against him are likely be dropped," Rumsfeld said.
Rumsfeld said he discussed the Liberia situation with Bush Tuesday morning, but no decisions were made.
Gen. Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Tuesday that forces would be deployed only if there is "a clear mission, a clear end state and a sufficient force to do the job."
He lashed out at those seeking to compare Liberia to Somalia, where 18 U.S. soldiers were killed in a botched 1993 mission to capture a militia leader.
"I don't know who's talking about Somalia. This is not the same situation," Myers snapped.