A U.S. Special Operations Security Team leader guides U.S. citizens as they depart the American Embassy in Monrovia, Liberia, during Operation Shining Express.

A U.S. Special Operations Security Team leader guides U.S. citizens as they depart the American Embassy in Monrovia, Liberia, during Operation Shining Express. (Courtesy of U.S. Air Force)

NAVAL STATION ROTA, Spain — Small teams of Europe-based American troops are in Liberia and Mauritania to boost security at U.S. embassies and help evacuate American citizens who wish to leave.

A mix of special operations and conventional forces on Friday helped the State Department evacuate the latest group of Americans from civil war-torn Liberia. They flew from the Liberian capital of Monrovia by a civilian helicopter contracted by the U.S. government to Sierra Leone, U.S. European Command spokeswoman Lt. Col. M.J. Jadick said Friday.

On Monday, U.S. troops helped in a French-led evacuation in Liberia, helping 83 Americans leave. So far, 129 Americans have fled the country, where Liberian soldiers have been battling rebels to oust President Charles Taylor.

American forces from Europe arrived in the two besieged African countries over the past week for what the military is calling Operation Shining Express.

Meanwhile, the Stuttgart, Germany-based EUCOM has a small assessment team standing by to evacuate Americans in Mauritania, a Sahara Desert country in western Africa. Last Sunday, rebels failed in a coup attempt against the government and fighting reached within two miles of the U.S. Embassy in the capital of Nouakchott.

About 300 U.S. troops are in the region to provide security and help Americans leave Liberia. The names of their units were not released for security concerns.

Joining them soon will be about 3,000 sailors and Marines aboard the USS Kearsarge. The Navy diverted the amphibious assault ship to the region to help in case State Department officials ordered all Americans to leave.

President Bush sent troops to the region at the request of the U.S. ambassador to Liberia. The State Department has recommended that American citizens leave the country due to the rising tensions. Clashes between the Liberian government and rebel forces have put the U.S. Embassy in the capital of Monrovia on alert.

Although the evacuation is voluntary, or what the U.S. military preferred to call “an orderly departure,” American forces are prepared to evacuate more American citizens if conditions worsen.

While U.S. forces are equipped for combat, President Bush wrote in the letter to Congress dated June 9 that they were being sent “solely for the purpose of protecting American citizens and property.”

On June 7, the first group of troops arrived in Freetown, Sierra Leone. A day later, most of them moved to Monrovia to protect U.S. citizens and evacuate them, if necessary.

Fixed-wing aircraft and their crews also were pre-positioned in Dakar, Senegal, to allow U.S. forces a quicker response time for an evacuation, Bush wrote. He added that the teams would leave as soon as threats to the embassy had subsided or, if necessary, an evacuation is complete.

The operation will delay the much-anticipated homecoming of the Kearsarge.

The ship was on its way home to Virginia and had planned on making a port visit in southwestern Spain. It was scheduled to arrive in Norfolk, Va., on June 26 after dropping off about 2,000 Marines at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

The ship is part of Amphibious Task Force East, which was deployed in January to support the war on terrorism and the war in Iraq.

Earlier this month, the Kearsarge and Marines from the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade cruised to the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba to support Bush’s visits to Egypt and Jordan. The president was in the Middle East to meet with Arab leaders.

They stood by prepared to evacuate and treat the president and his staff in case of an emergency.

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