Europe-based troops leave for Liberia
NAVAL STATION ROTA, Spain — A team of U.S. military civil affairs specialists from various bases in Europe was to fly to Liberia from here late Sunday to assess the humanitarian needs in the divided and battered West African country.
The group will include medical personnel, civil engineers, logistics specialists, water purification experts and a public affairs officer, said Master Sgt. John Tomassi, spokesman for the U.S. European Command based in Stuttgart, Germany.
A team leader will report the results of the fact-finding mission to Gen. James L. Jones, commander of U.S. forces in Europe. Tomassi said he did not know how long the group would be in Liberia.
Between 10 and 15 Marines will back up the group — called a humanitarian assistance survey team, or HAST. The Marines will come from the Rota-based Marine Corps Security Force Company Europe and will be responsible for protecting HAST members.
They will serve as a smaller version of the company’s Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team, or FAST platoon. The unit is equipped to deploy to hot spots on a moment’s notice to protect U.S. assets, ships and embassies.
The group is comprised of members of each service but the majority will be from the Navy, Tomassi said.
The mission comes as embattled Liberian President Charles Taylor accepted an offer of asylum in Nigeria on Sunday, but gave no timeframe for quitting power and insisted the transition must be orderly, urging the United States to send peacekeepers.
There has been no decision to send any additional U.S. troops, Tomassi said. The assessment team will help commanders decide what type of possible humanitarian support the U.S. government could offer the country.
West African leaders are calling for 2,000 U.S. troops to lead a peacekeeping force drawn mostly from African nations.
Liberia, founded by freed American slaves in the 19th century, has been embroiled in civil war for more than three years.
President Bush has urged Taylor to step down — Bush said Saturday he would “not take ‘no’ for an answer” — but he has not decided whether U.S. forces would be a part of any peacekeeping team.
In recent street demonstrations, some Liberians have pleaded for U.S. help. African leaders were hoping Bush would decide on sending troops before he left Monday for a five-nation African tour. The trip does not include Liberia, but Bush will be meeting with Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who offered Taylor asylum in his country.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.