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CNN BREAKING NEWS

U.S. Embassy in Monrovia, Liberia Hit by Mortar Fire

Aired July 21, 2003 - 10:30   ET

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

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We want to get back to that story that we just broke moments ago here. Word that the U.S. embassy in Monrovia, Liberia has been hit by mortar fire. Let's go now to the Pentagon. Our Barbara Starr is standing by there. The word coming from the Pentagon earlier this morning that 41 Marines would be sent in to protect those inside the embassy compound.
But, Barbara, it appears that that protection right now may be a little bit late.

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Leon, the situation does appear to be deteriorating in Liberia over the last several hours. Pentagon also confirming two mortar rounds, one they say hit inside the embassy compound, although it is not clear here whether it hit a building. One just outside the embassy compound. We spoke to officials a little while ago. They said they are working to confirm details. Three people they believe have been injured. One just outside the embassy. They believe possibly a journalist, and two contract employees working for the embassy.

Earlier today, they also have now confirmed to us 23 Americans were evacuated from the embassy compound. There are possibly -- they say they don't have a really good count, but maybe as many as 200 Americans still inside Liberia.

Now, those additional Marines that landed this morning, their main job will be to provide additional security for the U.S. embassy compound. That brings to a total of about 100 now heavily armed Marines providing that security for that embassy area where the fighting is now very close.

But officials are also telling us that these Marines are prepared in the words of one to assist with the orderly departure of U.S. personnel from the area.

Now the American ambassador, we are told, has not yet today ordered formally an evacuation of American citizens, but very clear some have already been taken out, nonessential personnel removed from the area, And the Marines are prepared now to conduct an evacuation if they are ordered to do so by the ambassador -- Leon?.

HARRIS: Very interesting. Barbara, one thing I don't think we've seen clarified just yet, is do we know who it is firing into the compound? Is it the rebel forces there that are fighting their way into the city, or the government forces who are basically protecting the government of Charles Taylor? STARR: We don't know that, Leon. Jeff Koinange inside the compound now on the scene getting the best, freshest information from the area, but what worries officials here is the fact that they really are not sure. They believe the security situation has rapidly deteriorated in the last several hours.

And this, of course, is going to be a problem if the U.S. wants to participate in any peacekeeping effort, because the U.S. military doesn't go into these types of situations unless there is some sort of peace to keep as it were.

We should add in that 2,000 Marines on the three-ship Iwo Jima task force have now also been ordered to move from their position in the Horn of Africa to the Mediterranean. They are going to get underway, go to the Mediterranean, and be as close as they can to Liberia, if in fact there needs to be additional U.S. forces, possibly for an evacuation, or if a peace agreement is reached and the U.S. can come to some understanding of what it will contribute, those Marines will be nearby to participate in any post-war peacekeeping effort -- Leon.

HARRIS: Thanks, Barbara. Quick work there. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.

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