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SLUG: 2-308030 Pentagon Liberia (L-O)









INTRO: The three ship U-S naval group supporting West African peacekeeping operations in Liberia since August has begun withdrawing from the waters off Monrovia. More from Correspondent Alex Belida at the Pentagon.

TEXT: U-S defense officials say two of the three ships in the amphibious assault group have departed the waters off Liberia and the third, the U-S-S Iwo Jima, is expected to leave by Wednesday.

A Pentagon spokesman says the group's mission has been accomplished. He says there is no longer any need for its quick reaction force of U-S Marines to remain in the area.

The spokesman says the Nigerian-led West African peacekeeping force in Liberia now has its own quick reaction capability for responding to any crises.

There are about 35-hundred West African peacekeepers in Liberia, a force deployed by the ECOWAS regional group. On October first, the force will officially become part of a U-N mission.

The Pentagon spokesman says about 60 U-S military personnel will remain in Liberia to provide security for the American Embassy. In addition, there are a small number of U-S liaison officers still attached to the West African peacekeeping force.

The spokesman says there are also about 160 American personnel and two military transport planes in nearby Senegal. This group in Dakar will remain in the region as an emergency evacuation team in case there is renewed trouble in Liberia.

There were about 23-hundred Marines in the U-S-S Iwo Jima group, but only about 200 went ashore in Liberia and only for a short period of time. Despite African pressure, U-S officials said the force was only designed as a back-up to the West African peacekeeping mission and was never intended to take a leading role or to remain involved for a lengthy period of time.

The ships in the Iwo Jima group are expected to make brief maintenance stops in Europe before returning to the United States. (SIGNED)


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