USAFE sends airmen to aid Liberia mission
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — U.S. military involvement in Liberia widened this week with the deployment of more than 100 Air Force troops from Europe to West Africa, a U.S. Air Forces in Europe spokesman said Monday.
Search-and-rescue and security forces airmen from three USAFE bases deployed Sunday to Senegal and Sierra Leone, located north of Liberia. The airmen will support the U.S. military survey team in Liberia, Maj. Patrick Ryder said.
The Air Force troops and four aircraft are on standby at civilian airports in Dakar, Senegal, and Freetown, Sierra Leone, in case any members of the Humanitarian Assistance Survey Team, or HAST, need emergency evacuation, Ryder said.
Among the Air Force assets are three HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters and their crews from the 85th Group at Naval Air Station Keflavik, Iceland, and one MC-130P Combat Shadow plane from the 352nd Special Operations Group from RAF Mildenhall, England, Ryder said.
Another 20 members of the 786th Security Forces Squadron, part of the Contingency Response Group at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, deployed to provide security on the mission, Ramstein spokeswoman Heather Miller said. The group is the Air Force’s rapid-response unit in Europe.
More than a dozen HAST members left Naval Station Rota, Spain, on July 7 for the Liberian capital of Monrovia. Marines from the Rota-based Marine Corps Security Force Company Europe are providing security for the mission.
The advance party is paving the way for a possible humanitarian operation in Liberia, where a fragile cease-fire is in place between President Charles Taylor’s government and rebel forces.
President Bush has demanded that Taylor step down. A U.N.-backed war crimes court in Nigeria has indicted Taylor.
HAST includes medics, contractors, engineers, civil affairs specialists, logisticians and environmental specialists.
The team is visiting ports, landing strips and refugee camps as part of its assessment, according to news reports.
Bush has said he was awaiting the survey team’s report to decide whether to increase American military involvement in Liberia.