- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 24, 2003

MONROVIA, Liberia — A 150-strong Marine force withdrew to warships off the Liberian capital’s coast yesterday, ending significant U.S. military deployment on the ground after just 11 days.

The Marines said U.S. troops would be in a better position on the warships to respond to any flare-ups in Liberia’s week-old peace accord, meant to end 14 years of conflict that have killed more than 150,000 people.

But some Liberians, watching U.S. military helicopters whir out of sight in the unannounced departure, spoke fearfully of being deserted.

“They’re forsaking us,” said Emmanuel Slawon, 22, watching the last U.S. helicopter fly out of Liberia’s main airport, dangling a Humvee in a giant sling.

“We wish they’d stay until peace would come,” Mr. Slawon said. “Their presence here puts fear in our fighters — it makes them think if they carry on hostilities, they’ll be handled by the Americans.”

The U.S. warships remain off Liberia, appearing in and out of view off a coast lined with black rocks. The United States has not said when they will pull away.

“Why did they go away?” cried Hawa Adra, 31, a refugee, watching with her 3-month-old daughter, Gift, as the Americans withdrew.

A West African peace force that arrived about three weeks ago has helped stop fighting in Monrovia. The government and two main rebel movements also signed a peace accord made possible by the Aug. 11 resignation and exile of President Charles Taylor, now in Nigeria.

But clashes persist in the countryside, sending refugees fleeing several miles from the airport.

U.S. military helicopters flew over that area yesterday on a patrol requested by the West African forces to try to help determine the source of gunfire and artillery explosions on Friday.

Liberian Defense Minister Daniel Chea said fighting persisted yesterday near the Guinea border, though the contention could not be verified.

President Bush put the rapid-reaction force on the ground Aug. 14 in the face of international pressure to quell the bloodletting in Liberia, a nation founded by freed American slaves with U.S. government backing in the 19th century.

CH-46 military helicopters carried the Marines back out of Liberia yesterday in driving rain.

“Let’s hope they’ll have peace in Liberia,” said one Marine who didn’t give his name, heading for the waiting CH-46, its rotors running.

About 100 U.S. troops remain on the ground — 70 guarding the U.S. Embassy and 30 acting as liaisons with the West African peacekeepers, said Lt. Col. Tom Collins, spokesman for the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit force, just before he left.

The decision “reflects the situation on the ground here,” Col. Collins said. “We’re here to support [the West Africans], but we can do it better from the ship.”

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