Military


Operation Sharp Edge

In mid-1990 increasing internal unrest threatened U.S. diplomats and civilians in Liberia. Since December 1989, civil war had raged between rival Liberian factions, and the safety of American citizens could no longer be guaranteed. Tension grew as rebel leader Prince Johnson said he would begin rounding up foreigners to force foreign intervention in his fight against Liberian President Samuel Doe. Johnson threatened to attack U. S. Marines at the embassy if the United States did not intervene on the rebel side.

Despite the efforts of a force of 11,500 sent by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in 1990, and numerous subsequent diplomatic initiatives and peace conferences, fighting continued, fueled by exploitation of the country's natural resources by the faction leaders and shadowy international business associates.

As the war spread from the interior toward the Liberian capital of Monrovia amid widespread death and destruction, the United States responded to the deteriorating situation by dispatching four warships with 2,300 marines to evacuate Americans and other foreigners who were in the country. Elements of a Marine Expeditionary Unit embarked in the USS Saipan (LHA-2) amphibious ready group provided support to the US Embassy and stood by to evacuate American citizens and others from 2 June to 5 August. They evacuated a total of 2,609 people between 5 August 1990 and 9 January 1991. The US decided not to intervene to contain the unfolding catastrophe.

On 5 August 1990, Marines from a U.S. Task Force off the coast of Liberia began an evacuahon operation which eventually rescued 2,690 people, including 330 U.S. citizens, from the war-torn capital city of Monrovia. Operation SHARP EDGE began with a pre-dawn meeting in the wardroom of USS Saipan (LHA 2) to finalize a plan that had been in the works for nearly two months. During that time, Saipan and her Amphibious Ready Group, consisting of USS Ponce (LPD 15), USS Sumter (LST 1181), Fleet Surgical Team TWO and the destroyer USS Peterson (DD 969), waited off the coast for orders to begin evacuation.

As dawn broke, more than 200 Marines from HOTEL Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines climbed into CH-46 Sea Knight and CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters for the 20-mile ride to the U.S. embassy compound in Monrovia and commenced the non-combatant evacuation operation. They evacuated not only Americans, but also Liberian, Italian, Canadian and French nationals during an operation which lasted until 30 November, when opposing forces agreed to a cease-fire. Sailors and Marines from the task force also provided humanitarian assistance, airlifting food, water, fuel and medical supplies to the ravaged city.

Navy support for the operation, the longest-running non-combatant evacuation operation in recent naval history, ended 9 January, when the amphibious transport dock USS Nashville (LPD 13), Helicopter Combat Support Squadron FOUR (HCS 4) and elements of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit departed the Liberian coastal area known during the operation as "Mamba Station."

Just a few days before SHARP EDGE ended, another civil war threatened American lives. USS Guam (LPH 9) and USS Trenton (LPD 14) with Marines from the 4th Marine Expeditionary Brigade embarked, raced from their DESERT SHIELD stations in the North Arabian Sea to rescue Americans and foreign nationals threatened by war in Somalia.



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