NAVAL STATION ROTA, Spain — As American soldiers try to stabilize postwar Iraq, troops at U.S. bases in Europe stand ready to help bring peace to Liberia.

U.S. military commanders are keeping an eye on the increasingly chaotic situation in Liberia, waiting — should they get the order — to join a peacekeeping force in the African hot spot.

No decision has been made to send U.S. forces, but West African nations have made it clear they want the Pentagon’s help. African leaders have asked for 2,000 U.S. troops for a peacekeeping mission in Liberia, and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has suggested that the United States take a lead role in the strife-ridden nation.

While Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters on Monday that a “range of options” is being considered, military units in Europe are preparing in case they get the call.

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Rick Haupt, spokesman for the U.S. European Command, said he could not say, for security reason, what units could go.

“We’re monitoring the situation and standing by for direction from higher authority,” he said.

If President Bush sends troops to the region, it is likely that some or all would come from units stationed in Europe.

EUCOM, which oversees U.S. forces in Europe, has an area of operations that stretches from the North Cape of Norway, through Europe, to parts of the Middle East and most of Africa.

Dozens of European-based troops are in Liberia and Sierra Leone in case the U.S. ambassador in the capital of Monrovia requests the evacuation of American citizens. Last month, U.S. and French forces helped evacuate Americans who wished to leave. The Pentagon called it Operation Shining Express.

While assessment teams have returned to their bases in Europe, the rest of the troops remain in the region to help boost security at diplomatic posts or evacuate Americans, if needed.

Liberia has been in turmoil for more than a decade.

Rebels have waged a three-year battle to oust President Charles Taylor, whom President Bush has urged to step down and allow an interim government to take power. The rebels control more than half of the impoverished country and have battled Taylor’s forces for the capital.

Liberia, founded by freed American slaves, is one of Africa’s poorest countries, according to the U.S. State Department.

A military mission in Africa would add to a growing list of military operations now conducted by U.S. troops worldwide. In addition to the 6,000 troops in the Balkans, the Pentagon has slightly less than 150,000 troops in Iraq and between 6,000 and 8,000 in Afghanistan. U.S. forces also are in the Horn of Africa as part of the global war on terrorism.

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