President Bush said yesterday he would be willing to commit U.S. troops to support a peacekeeping effort in war-torn Liberia, but only if the mission is limited in scope and duration and only after the nation’s leader cedes power and leaves.
“I think everybody understands any commitment we have would be limited in size and limited in tenure. Our job would be to help facilitate an [African] presence, which would then be converted into a U.N. peacekeeping mission,” he said.
Complicating matters, Liberian President Charles Taylor said in a TV interview yesterday that his leaving would require a major nation-building exercise involving thousands of troops and extensive American support.
“I’m looking at anywhere from between 3,000 to 5,000 United States troops, coupled with maybe 5,000 to 10,000 troops from the United Nations,” Mr. Taylor told Fox News. “We’re going to need 10 years of real, on-the-site working with Liberia to get this thing going, so we’re going to need a lot of United States troops.”
While some White House officials said yesterday that they did not expect a decision this week on whether to deploy as many as 2,000 U.S. troops, Mr. Bush’s expressed willingness yesterday appeared to open the door to a joint deployment with troops from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
“What I’m telling you is that we want to help ECOWAS, it may require troops, but we don’t know how many yet,” Mr. Bush told reporters after a White House meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Some U.N. officials believe a U.S. intervention would require about six months, but U.S. sources say they doubt Mr. Bush would let U.S. troops stay in Liberia that long.
Mr. Bush said he wanted to help enforce a tenuous cease-fire in Liberia, rived by civil war for more than 10 years, but added, “This is conditional on President Taylor leaving. He’s got to leave.”
Mr. Annan, a native of nearby Ghana and a staunch supporter of U.S. intervention in Liberia, said he had struck an agreement with Mr. Bush, whom he had vehemently opposed in the months before the U.S.-led war in Iraq.
“We have more or less agreed to a general approach on the Liberian issue, and I’m very pleased with that,” he said, sitting next to Mr. Bush in the Oval Office. “So the effort that is going on is absolutely worthwhile.”
In his Fox interview yesterday, the Liberian president dismissed as “a joke” a commitment of anything less than 3,000 American troops and a long-term exercise in nation building.
“We are not looking for any short time, Band-Aid approach from the United States. You do not come into a country, drive its president out, and bring a Band-Aid approach to this country,” he said.
“Liberians are not going to accept” a small American commitment for such “a big task,” he told Fox yesterday. “You’ve got to come in here full blast. Not just 500 troops or 1,000.”
Mr. Taylor said the U.S. effort needs to involve “ground troops, Army Corps of Engineers, financial experts, economists, the whole ball of wax.”