NAVAL STATION ROTA, Spain — About 50 Marines from a rapid-reaction unit based in Rota have their bags and are ready to go to Liberia’s besieged capital of Monrovia if the call comes.

A platoon-size group from Marine Corps Security Force Company Europe is standing by and could leave for the war-torn country in West Africa on a moment’s notice, U.S. military sources said Thursday on the condition of anonymity.

Several hundred American troops are in the region to evacuate U.S. citizens if the situation becomes worse in Liberia.

The civil war between rebel forces and President Charles Taylor’s government has become deadlier the past several months in Liberia, a country founded by freed American slaves.

African leaders have asked for the United States to send 2,000 troops to lead an international peacekeeping force to help end the fighting, but President Bush has not decided what type of support will be provided, if any.

There is speculation that if Washington sends troops, they would likely come from units based in Europe. The U.S. European Command lists most of Africa in its area of operation, but a spokesman, Master Sgt. John Tomassi, said no units in the region have received any orders to head to Liberia.

Navy Capt. Gordon Hume, spokesman for the London-based Naval Forces Europe headquarters, also said no specific orders have been issued for any Navy or Marine units. A statement released by the command on Thursday said that it is a matter of policy not to discuss future troop movements or operations.

Marine Capt. T.R. Crellin, acting commander of the Rota-based Marine Corps Security Forces Company Europe, declined to comment and referred questions to the London headquarters.

If the Marines got the call, they would not be a part of any type of U.S. peacekeeping force. They would likely jet down to the capital of Monrovia to help boost security forces at the embassy, sources said.

The company in Rota has two security force platoons and a Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team, or FAST platoon. One of the security force platoons deploys regularly to U.S. Navy bases in Europe to work with base security, train and perform some anti-terrorism measures, while the second stays in Rota on call to deploy during an emergency. If a crisis happens at one of the bases in the Mediterranean Sea region, the platoon would rush out to the installation to reinforce security.

The FAST platoon is slightly different than a security force platoon. FAST units are equipped to deploy to hot spots to protect U.S. assets, ships and embassies. While they primarily serve a defensive role, such units have been involved in combat in the past.

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