Operation Shining Express
As violence in Liberia increased in mid June 2003 the US Ambassador to Liberia requested military aid in the event that embassy personnel and American citizens had to be evacuated from the country. At the direction of the Secretary of Defense, the U.S. European Command sent military support to the region to provide the ambassador an enhanced capability to monitor the situation in Liberia and to be pre-positioned to aid in any evacuation of U.S. citizens. This deployment was given the name Shining Express.
International staff of the UN and non-governmental organizations (NGOs)were forced to evacuate from Monrovia on 11 June 2003, when intense fighting in the western suburbs threatened to spread into the city. However, some international staff of ICRC and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) remained, as well as significant number of local staff of the UN and NGOs. There were approximately 30 UN international staff in Monrovia, some of whom returned to the capital after being evacuated in early June 2003, but most were confined to the UN compound.
Foreign Minister De Villepin stated that everyone must meet their responsibilities in the crises in Western Africa, as France did in Côte d'Ivoire and the UK did in Sierra Leone. Clearly, in the case of Liberia, the US has a special tradition.
Operation Shining Express includes special operations forces, Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps and Reserve components. Operation Shining Express personnel are augmented security forces at the Embassy in Monrovia and supported State Department officials who were conducting an orderly departure of US citizens wishing to leave the country.
USS Kearsarge (LHD 3), then returning to the United States after serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom, was directed to join forces in support of Operation Shining Express, to aid in the potential evacuation of U.S. citizens from the country of Liberia.
With fighting gaining in intensity, pressure increased on the United States to take an more active role in the Liberian conflict. On June 30, 2003, the United Nations Security Council held closed-door consultations to discuss the possibile deployment of a multi-national force to Liberia, following a request by Kofi Annan, the United Nations' Secretary-General. Annan raised the prospect of US involvement, under the logic that such an intervention to prevent a major tragedy should be led by a Member State and be authorized under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. West African mediators were also among those calling for a US military intervention.
With pressure increasing for President Bush to send troops to Liberia, the US administration was reported to be weighing the options available to it. Bush, once again called on the Charles Taylor to step down from power.
According to a July 2, 2003, VOA story, several dozen Marines were on stand-by at a base in Spain ready to go to Liberia in the eventuality that security around the U.S. embassy there was to deteriorate further; these soldiers being part of a special rapid, anti-terrorism force. Contingency plans had also reportedly been drawn up which would call for the deployment of up to 2,000 US soldiers to Liberia.
Military chiefs of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) pledged on 04 July 2003 to raise 3,000 troops from member countries for an intervention force to restore peace in Liberia. Ghana's Lieutenant-General Seth Obeng, Chairman of the ECOWAS Defence and Security Commission, said the ability of West African countries to send enough troops to Liberia was plagued by financial and logistical constraints. "ECOWAS and the African Union should intensify their initiatives to get an advanced country, possibly the United States, to spearhead peace efforts in Liberia, just as Britain and France did for Sierra Leone and Cote d'Ivoire," he suggested.
On July 7, 2003, two U.S helicopters brought a 32 man military civil affairs assessment team to the U.S embassy compound in Monrovia. The team was tasked with evaluating conditions for deployment of peacekeepers to Liberia.
Forces loyal to Liberian President Charles Taylor have prevented a team of U.S. experts assessing humanitarian and security needs from entering a refugee camp near Monrovia, the capital.
On July 21, 2003 following additional incidents of violence a US Marine Corps Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team was dispatched to Monrovia to provide enhance security at the US Embassy and to evacuate US personnel. Additionally, the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group carrying the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit was ordered to reposition in the Mediterranean Sea in the even that the President decided to dispatch additional forces to the area.
On July 25, 2003 the Bush Administration announced that the Iwo Jima ARG would be deployed off the coast of Liberia in anticipation of assisting ECOWAS forces.
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