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CNN BREAKING NEWS

U.S. Begins Adding Muscle in Monrovia

Aired August 14, 2003 - 05:31   ET

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

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Within the last hour, the U.S. began adding muscle in Monrovia. The rebels who ran off President Charles Taylor are preparing to be out of that city within three hours. All this after desperate civilians loot grain from the city's port. But the big news this morning, 200 more U.S. Marines in Liberia right now.
Let's go to Monrovia now and talk with Jeff Koinange -- and you just talked to a U.S. commander, right?

JEFF KOINANGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Carol. And basically he says this, the U.S. boots are on the ground officially. Anyone who had any doubt, well, no more doubts anymore, as you saw them come in on CH-46 and CH-53 helicopters. Like you said, the numbers are about 200 in all. And what they said, they're going to set up their base right here at the airport.

And basically the mission, according to Lieutenant Colonel Tom Collins of the U.S. Army, is to help the ECOMIL West African peacekeepers in logistics and communications, anything they want. They're here to show that they're here to help.

Now, basically in less than three hour's time, Carol, the West African peacekeepers will make their way, those of whom have been here at the airport will make their way towards the capital of Monrovia, about a 40 mile drive and across one of the three key bridges, towards the Freeport area of Monrovia and secure that port as of 12 midday local time. The LURD rebels are supposed to clear that area, giving way to West African peacekeepers.

And the thinking here is in the coming days, in the coming weeks, that will bring in much needed food aid, much needed humanitarian relief to tens of thousands of suffering Liberians -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Many Americans are worried about the U.S. Marines onshore in Liberia.

Tell us what their exact duties will be, Jeff.

KOINANGE: What we're hearing right now is they're going to set up their camp here at the airport and assist the West African peacekeepers in any way they can. They haven't said whether they will help them secure the port. That is all one right now. But they said they will assist them in any way they can.

They want to show support. They want to show that they are there with them. They want to show that anyone who had thought that the U.S. was slow to react, well, the show of force, the impressive show of force with those helicopters landing and Marines coming out, that should allay any fears, allay any doubts or rumors that the boots, the U.S. boots are on the ground -- Carol.

COSTELLO: So they're not going to actively engage in like fighting with rebel groups, but they're going to watch the backs of those West African peacekeepers to help get humanitarian aid to the people?

KOINANGE: Now, totally. Remember, there's a second rebel group calling itself the Movement for Democracy in Liberia, or MODEL. They're about 30 miles east of where I am right now and they have been pushing towards this airport area the last couple of days, even though the West African peacekeepers have been in negotiations with them. They're going to have to watch their flank right there, Carol. But they have a mission. They have to do what they can to help make sure that some kind of peace and normalcy returns to this war ravaged nation -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Jeff, I know that these 200 Marines coming ashore came as kind of a surprise because the Bush administration had said it wasn't going to send many troops onshore. There are still thousands more U.S. Marines offshore.

KOINANGE: Absolutely.

COSTELLO: Is it possible that more might come in?

KOINANGE: More might, yes, absolutely, although they are keeping tight-lipped right now, just like they did about this mission. We do know that there are about 2,000 Marines and about 2,500 soldiers on those three U.S. Naval vessels, which are literally off the shore, off the coast of Liberia. We don't know whether they're going to send any more, Carol, but this impressive show of force today does, indeed, show that the boots are finally on the ground -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Jeff Koinange reporting live from Monrovia at the airport there this morning.

And as the situation in Liberia changes throughout the day, you can stay up to the minute from your desktop at work. Click onto our Web site. The address, cnn.com, AOL keyword: CNN.

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