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Liberia - US Military Intervention

The US and Liberia have had a longstanding special relationship. Although some Liberians have placed a high value on this relationship, successive US governments have contended that no such relationship exists. Liberia was an ally of the US during the Cold War, and a facilitator of covert operations against Col. Mu'ammar al-Qadhafi during the 1980s.

When the civil war broke out in 1989, the United States denied the special relationship and any obligation to intervene. Liberia's low priority in a post-Cold War world was not enough to warrant military intervention to nip a civil war in the bud. This approach has remained firm to date, although the US has remained active diplomatically and has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in humanitarian aid and in aid to the West African peacekeeping force. The crisis has required the US to maintain naval and marine forces offshore for long periods (in 1990 and 1996) and to conduct several noncombatant evacuation operations (NEOs). Other NEOs could be required unless the United States either intervenes to put an end to the chaos or closes down its diplomatic mission.

Graham Greene visited Liberia in 1935, which he described in "Journey Without Maps." He wrote that he was welcomed in some areas "because I was a white (person), because they (natives) hoped all the time that a white nation would take the country over." The American writer, John Gunther considered the condition of the indigenous population repulsive when he visited Liberia in the early 1950s. He referred to it as "a kind of perverse advertisement for imperialism."

Liberia is widely seen as one of Africa's preeminent "failed states" in which the central government has ceased to provide essential security and services. In the absence of state authority, territory is, in effect, ceded to contending militia groups that operate lawlessly and with impunity for crimes against civilians. In addition, conflict re-erupted in mid-2000 following cross-border incursions by the insurgent group Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD). The LURD consists of various militias that oppose President Charles Taylor; they are driven as much by economic depredation as by any clearly defined political agenda. There is an oscillating stalemate on the ground. The rebels occasionally advance toward Monrovia, while at other times the Government of Liberia (GOL) forces push the insurgents into the hinterland and into refuges in Guinea and Sierra Leone. Tens of thousands of combat-related fatalities have occurred.

The Liberia conflict is interwoven with violence in neighboring Sierra Leone, Guinea and Cote d'Ivoire. Much of the blame lies with the Charles Taylor-led government,which has been in power since he won the presidential election in 1997 following over a decade of civil war. President Taylor is the major force in Liberian politics, and his policies remain a major obstacle to internal and regional stability and the development of a democratic Liberia. Under Taylor, the GOL has done little to improve the lives of the Liberian people.

The humanitarian consequences have been severe. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are about 158,000 refugees from Liberia and about 130,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) living in camps within Liberia. The actual number of displaced may be two or three times the number living in the camps. This crisis is occurring in one of the poorest countries on earth,with 80%of Liberia 's approximately three million people living in poverty. Severe unemployment, amounting to 80% of the workforce, is the norm. Corruption is widespread. The capital, Monrovia, is without functioning electricity, water and sewerage systems. All basic human needs are supplied through the international donor community or through church groups. Most of the formal economy is controlled by Taylor or his close associates. The current government's policies on human rights and fostering regional instability have prevented the international community from providing the support that Liberia desperately needs to adequately address the growing humanitarian crisis and to overcome its serious social and economic problems.

The deteriorating political and security situation coupled with the Government of Liberia's involvement in regional conflict resulted in increasing alienation from the international community. United Nations sanctions against members of the current Government remain in force, as do those against diamond trading and the importation of weapons. The overall political and diplomatic situation has manifested a significant decrease in donor engagement in Liberia. The United Nations is the largest donor in Liberia, followed by the United States. The European Union (EU) is third among Liberia's significant donors. Other donors include:the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Finland. Neither the World Bank nor the International Monetary Fund is active in Liberia. Donor activities include assistance to improve food security, democracy and governance, income generation and primary health, in addition to significant humanitarian assistance. In addition to international donors, religious organizations including the Catholic, Lutheran and Methodist Churches provide significant assistance in the education and health sectors, as well as humanitarian assistance.

USAID is concentrating on increasing civil society's capacity for peace-building and supporting the eventual restoration of good governance, while improving food security and access to essential health care and services. USAID has awarded two contracts which will consolidate and better integrate USAID programs and attempt to address long-term development issues. The consolidated program funds activities with international NGOs to support community groups and local NGOs that deliver quality primary health care, increase food security through better food crop production, processing and marketing; and provide resources for adult literacy, civic education and public information programs. USAID's assistance will increase the capacity of civil society to take a greater role in the future of Liberia.USAID will also provide resources to help strengthen opposition political parties in preparation for planned elections in October 2003.

On September 29, 2003 the Department of Defense announced that the U.S. Joint Task Force that participated in stability operations in Liberia is pulling out. Military forces from the Economic Community of West African States had succeeded in establishing a safe area so humanitarian operations in Liberia can proceed, said officials. American forces will leave the country Oct. 1, 2003. The USS Carter Hall and USS Nashville left the area on or about September 27 or 28 with 1,550 soldiers and Marines. The USS Iwo Jima was to depart the area shortly there after. A total of 55 Marines were to remain in Monrovia to beef up security at the U.S. embassy. The Marines are from Rota Naval Station, Spain. At its greatest, U.S. presence in Liberia was about 300, according to US officials. Twenty-one U.S. personnel developed malaria during the deployment. Twenty have returned to duty. One Marine remains hospitalized at Bethesda Naval Hospital, Md.



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