MONROVIA, Liberia – President Charles Taylor (search) on Monday retiterated his demand for U.S. military intervention in Liberia, saying "they owe it to us," but he was critical of President Bush (search) for insisting on his immediate resignation.
Meanwhile, two helicopters brought a team of U.S. military civil affairs experts to the U.S. Embassy compound in Monrovia (search) on Monday to help assess whether to contribute such a force.
Bush began a whirlwind five-day, five-nation trip to Africa on Monday night without announcing whether he will send U.S. troops to Liberia.
Bush, who has insisted that Taylor step down as a condition for U.S. intervention, was to arrive Tuesday morning in the West African nation of Senegal (search).
Taylor, in interviews with The Associated Press, was firm in his demand that an international stabilization force be in place before he steps down, although he gave conflicting statements about whether that force need include Americans.
The leader, beset by rebels and indicted by a U.N.-backed war crimes court, also insisted that he alone will decide on the timing of his withdrawal from power.
"I said that for the sake of peace I will step down from office ... It was not President Bush who made the (initial) call," he told Associated Press Television News. "Bush was late on this matter."
The United States faces mounting international pressure to intervene in Liberia, founded by freed American slaves in the 19th century and a major recipient of U.S. aid until the late 1980s.
Taylor, who has reneged on promises to resign in the past, accepted an offer of asylum from Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo on Sunday — but did not specify when he would leave.
He appeared calm and confident Monday, speaking expansively in an anteroom of his plush executive mansion, where the carpet was emblazoned with the motto: "The love of liberty brought us here."
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan welcomed Taylor's decision to resign and leave Liberia. "The secretary-general sees this development as a significant turning point as Liberia strives to move from war to peace," said a statement issued by Annan's spokesman.
The United Nations and European leaders have sought U.S. troops to enforce an oft-violated June 17 cease-fire between forces loyal to Taylor and rebels fighting for three years to oust him. West African nations have offered 3,000 troops and have suggested that the United States contribute another 2,000.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Monday that Taylor's promise to leave "remains encouraging" but that he must act on his words "so that stability can be achieved."
Navy Capt. Roger Coldiron, who heads the 32-person team, told reporters that his mission is to "assess the security environment" in the country and study the humanitarian needs of its 3 million people — suffering greatly from more than a decade of civil strife.
"There is a security component," Coldiron said. "We want to be sure that whomever comes in is safe on the ground."
Coldiron said the team would take as long as needed before making any recommendation.
Taylor told APTN that an international force was the key, not whether it included Americans. But in a separate interview with an AP reporter, he said the presence of U.S. troops was a condition for his departure.
"They owe it to us," Taylor said.
He also said U.S. troops would be welcome in Liberia, and need not fear a repeat of the military operation in Somalia that eventually killed 18 Americans.
"Liberia is American territory. Young Liberian women will put flowers in their path," he told the AP.
"If one U.S. Marine stood on Broad Street and blew a whistle, 'time out,' then there would be peace," Taylor said, referring to Monrovia's main commercial thoroughfare. "When they arrive, bingo. There's an exit."
"I would be out of here in a jiffy," he said.
Taylor emerged from the last conflict as the strongest warlord and was elected president the following year.
He has been accused of supporting Sierra Leone's brutal Revolutionary United Front rebels, whose trademark atrocity was amputating the arms and facial features of their civilian victims with machetes.
Nearly one third of Liberia's 3 million people have been forced from their homes by fighting since rebels took up arms against Taylor in 1999.
When he resigns, Taylor told the AP that he planned to "rest and write." But he said he would stay involved in his political party — and would not rule out the possibility of a political comeback.