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CNN BREAKING NEWS

U.S. Military Team Arrives in Liberian Capital

Aired July 7, 2003 - 06:31   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

KRIS OSBORN, CNN ANCHOR: Turning now to the latest from Liberia. We know a U.S. military team is arriving there this morning, but we don't know exactly when, but you do see a chopper.
As we speak right now, this is a live situation in the capital of Liberia, which is Monrovia. President Charles Taylor is expected to depart at some point, but no timetable has been given for that. What you are seeing is the arrival of an assessment team, including members of the U.S. military, arriving to assess the situation.

Brent Sadler is standing by live on the ground to fill us in with the details.

Hello -- Brent.

BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I was going to say you have the arrival here of this chopper that's coming into (UNINTELLIGIBLE) on a helicopter landing pad inside the U.S. embassy compound in the Liberian capital of Monrovia.

Now, this helicopter -- I hope you can hear me over the sound of the rotor blades -- is expected to pick up a lot of dust as it touches down. This is going to be one of a couple of waves, we understand, of U.S. military personnel -- there you go -- touching down in Liberia, inside the U.S. compound now being hit by the downdraft from that helicopter. And really the military personnel and -- political personnel, rather, from the embassy going out to meet these U.S. troops. These are essentially coming off the helicopter first, the security detail that will be going around the country with the humanitarian assistance team.

So, you'll see they are armed, they're carrying (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and they've very quickly gone around the back of the helicopter looking at the security aspects there as they disembark this aircraft.

Now, don't expect this drop off to take very long. In fact, there you go, the helicopter is just beginning to go up now; again, being hit by more downdraft. The U.S. ambassador is on the ground already meeting this humanitarian survey mission.

These military personnel are part of a team, including their own security of about 35 personnel here, to start assessing the needs -- the humanitarian needs of Liberia's war-ravaged nation in the fields of health, in the fields of medicine, education, construction, logistics and so forth, after almost two decades of ruinous wars which have really laid this country to waste. So, there we have it, the first offloading of the U.S. military personnel. And if we can move the camera left away from that group of U.S. officials and the senior commanders of this small team, you'll see coming in over the horizon there a second helicopter that will be bringing in more components of this team, as I said, about 35 in all. This is not -- I repeat, not -- the beginning of a U.S. deployment, a peacekeeping mission. Far from that, this is really an assessment team to really start the work, to look at the challenges that need to be met here, and really to lay the groundwork that could lead to President Bush giving the green light for a larger deployment of troops to take part in a peacekeeping or stabilization force that could unfold over the next days or weeks.

Now, the backdrop to this arrival here in the embassy in Monrovia -- we're bringing you this event live now -- of course, is the future of President Charles Taylor. The U.S. ambassador is there shaking hands with one of the leaders of the survey team here.

Behind this is the issue of the future of Liberia's President Charles Taylor. Mr. Taylor has said -- rather, responded positively to President Bush's demand that he leave office. President Taylor has told his Nigerian counterpart just yesterday that he'll accept an offer of political asylum in Nigeria, but Mr. Taylor not really revealing how and when he's going to go, keeping his cards very much to his chest, insisting that peacekeepers have to be on the ground first.

These, we're told by U.S. officials, are not peacekeepers, these U.S. personnel. They're going to be starting their mission as early as today, going out and looking at the very chronic humanitarian needs of Liberia.

So, as we wait here for a second drop off of more personnel, I'll hand you back to the studio.

OSBORN: Well, Brent, as you were talking about so many things, including the years of violence and the difficulty on the ground in Liberia, part of what has made it difficult for aid workers to function in the country, talk to us as we see the forces, if you will, members of the team come off the choppers and fly in, about what makes up the team. I understand, as you were pointing out, some medical experts along with some logistics personnel going in there to look at those very questions.

SADLER: Indeed, yes. You're talking about very many specialties here in terms of humanitarian aid. Remember, there is really virtually no significant presence of aid organizations in here. In fact, the U.S. diplomatic mission here is just about the last Western mission in this war-ravaged nation. It's down to a skeleton staff in this compound. In the middle there in the suit you see the ambassador, looking really now to start helping this team set up their needs and requirements, so that they can get out of the embassy compound here and start looking at what's in the city itself to begin with.

I understand they could be going out as early as this afternoon, this survey team, and looking at one area that is really the subject of interest, because it's where a lot of refugees have been living for the past several weeks.

OSBORN: Well, and, Brent, about that circumstance in the capital, as you were saying, they may hit the ground and go in there reasonably soon. Smaller units like these have their own self- protection capability. Bearing in mind, of course, this is an assessment team, they have to be considering security issues as well.

SADLER: Indeed, yes. The ambassador is just having an impromptu press conference here. We'll try and bring you that live.

But certainly the challenges of this team -- and this is just the initial deployment -- are very many indeed. They'll be figuring out not least the humanitarian aspects of all of this, but they'll also be trying to work out really how the humanitarian aspect of what needs to be met here is going to fit in with any potential deployment of U.S. peacekeepers or a U.S. intervention force. No titles have been set in stone yet.

And this all has to be worked out in conjunction with West African states, from the economic community of West African states, ECOWAS. You'll be hearing a lot about that in the coming days and weeks.

But I got to see the ambassador before these landings today, and he was briefing really about the very, very many difficulties this country has, maybe a million refugees, the country -- about two-thirds of Liberia is in rebel hands. Mr. Taylor, the Liberian president, is lodged between two rebel forces, to the north and the south, and this really is a very tricky security issue to have to deal with here if U.S. peacekeepers are to be put on the ground in significant numbers.

And, of course, flash back to a decade ago, when there was a U.S. intervention force in Somalia and recall that incident, that tragic incident when a helicopter was shot down and the loss of 18 U.S. servicemen, really immortalized in that movie, "Black Hawk Down," that people will recall. And that kind of difficulty, that kind of resistance not expected here, because Liberians are really looking very positively towards the United States.

Indeed, President Charles Taylor himself, even though he has been told unequivocally by President George W. Bush that he must leave office, it was noticeable yesterday that Mr. Taylor said he welcomed the fact that Mr. Bush was engaging in Liberia's many problems, and he was really pleading, if you like, to Mr. Bush and the international community to understand that if he goes and leaves behind disorder, a vacuum, then the situation of today could be even worse tomorrow.

So, President Taylor insisting he has to leave in an orderly fashion, and the U.S. insisting he must go. It's now the fine print that has to be worked out it seems.

Back to you -- Kris.

OSBORN: Thank you very much. CNN's Brent Sadler live on the scene detailing the arrival of the U.S. military assessment team there on the ground. We want to thank you for that very important, very significant and detailed report.

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