- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 6, 2003

The two top senators on military affairs yesterday urged President Bush to seek congressional approval before committing any U.S. peacekeepers to the war-torn West African nation of Liberia.

“We’ve got to think through very, very carefully the insertion of U.S. forces in there,” said Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“It’s a presidential decision. But I would say to the Senate leadership and most respectfully to the president, I would want a vote in the Congress before we begin to commit substantial forces into that region,” Mr. Warner said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat and the committee’s ranking member, agreed that congressional approval would be a smart move.

“I’m very concerned about the risks,” said Mr. Levin, appearing on the same program.

“I think, however, that if this is a U.N.-authorized mission, that we surely ought to consider participating in it. But it would be wise, as Senator Warner has mentioned, for there to be a vote of Congress before that is done,” Mr. Levin said.

The call for a vote was received coolly by the White House, where a spokesman called the discussion premature.

“We’re getting ahead of ourselves,” spokesman Jimmy Orr told the Associated Press. “This presupposes the president has made a decision to send troops. He hasn’t.”

A military civil-affairs team left Spain yesterday to investigate the situation in Liberia, and Mr. Bush leaves today for a five-nation tour of the continent.

Liberian President Charles Taylor has accepted asylum from Nigeria and is planning to make an orderly exit from Monrovia, which is surrounded by rebel forces. Thousands have died in the decade-long civil war, and Mr. Taylor has been indicted for war crimes by a U.N.-backed court in Sierra Leone.

Mr. Taylor has asked for U.S. forces, which could number 2,000, in addition to 3,000 pledged by some of Liberia’s neighbors.

Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said neighboring African nations should help shoulder the burden of restoring peace to the nation, which was founded by freed American slaves and declared independence in 1847.

“I think we’d really like to see the states in the region help with this particular problem. And I think it’s too early to talk about whether it would be unilateral or multilateral. We’d be hopeful that states in the region would step up and help deal with this problem,” Gen. Myers said.

Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican and chairman of Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said the United States should be cautious about committing troops that already are focused on other military efforts in the Middle East.

“We have three wars to fight. One is the war against terrorism, internationally. We still have a situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And we obviously have the reconstitution going on in Iraq, where we’re now fighting an antiguerrilla effort,” Mr. Roberts said.

“I know the president wants to focus on Africa. I’d be very cautious about this,” Mr. Roberts said. “I don’t want to send our troops into an area where they’re going to become targets under the banner of peacekeeping.”

The U.S. has more than 170,000 troops in Iraq and nearly 10,000 in Afghanistan.

Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, West Virginia Democrat and ranking member of the intelligence committee, said previous peacekeeping efforts such as those in Bosnia and Haiti have turned out to be long-term commitments, and “the American people … are not famous for” patience.

“In terms of Africa, that is a whole continent full of problems waiting for us,” Mr. Rockefeller said.

This article is based in part on wire-service reports.

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