PRETORIA, South Africa – Peacekeeping troops from West African nations should lead the way into Liberia (search), with the United States providing mostly support at first, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Thursday.
Powell, briefing reporters while traveling with President Bush on his five-day trip through Africa, said the president is likely to decide within days on the role the United States will play in enforcing a cease-fire in Liberia.
A team of U.S. military experts, now in the Liberian capital of Monrovia gathering information on the country's security and humanitarian needs, has nearly finished its work, said Powell
Another U.S. team plans to continue meeting with negotiators from West African nations this weekend in nearby Ghana (search), he said.
The 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (search) has offered to contribute 1,000 troops to an initial peacekeeping force. The U.S. advisers are discussing "what will be required to move the ECOWAS troops into Monrovia," Powell said.
Those forces will need U.S. support, Powell said, "whether that is just with logistics units or command and control units or communications facilities or support of that kind, or whether there would actually be U.S. troops on the ground."
But, he said, "the intention right now is to lead with ECOWAS ... with the U.S. essentially playing a role of support."
Meanwhile, Charles Taylor, the president of Liberia who has been indicted on war crimes charges, said it should take about a week to conclude an agreement to bring African troops into the country.
"And then, other than that, there should be no reason for me to be hanging around here," Taylor told "Fox News Channel."
The United States, not the Liberian people, want him to depart, Taylor said. "But my going is going to be good for my people, so I am going to leave."
Taylor, who has made several offers to leave Liberia, said "nobody is going to be hostile to Americans" if they go to Liberia as peacekeepers.
Questions about Bush's pending decision on Liberia have followed him throughout his trip this week in Africa.
The United Nations and European leaders want U.S. troops to lead a peacekeeping force to enforce a repeatedly violated June 17 cease-fire between forces loyal to Taylor and rebels fighting for three years to oust him.
Taylor, a one-time warlord accused of war crimes in neighboring Sierra Leone, has promised to step down, clearing the way for a transitional government to oversee elections.
Bush has insisted that Taylor, whom he and many others consider an impediment to peace in the region, relinquish power.
"I expect that over the next several days, as we finish the assessment in Monrovia and get that report, and the military assessment team working with ECOWAS over the weekend, the president will be in a position to make a decision," Powell said.
Bush is due to meet with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the White House on Monday. The two will have a wide-ranging agenda, including Liberia, Powell and U.N. spokeswoman Hua Jiang said.
Annan, in Mozambique to attend the African Union summit, appealed to Bush on Wednesday to send peacekeepers.
On Capitol Hill, some black members of Congress said Thursday that they also want Bush to intervene.
Reps. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., Donald Payne, D-N.J., ranking member of the House International Relations Subcommittee on Africa, and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus, urged the president to finalize plans to deploy troops.
Opposing a U.S. troop deployment to Liberia, the American Conservative Union on Thursday urged is members to write a letter to Bush, telling him that the United States cannot afford to commit an ever-larger proportion of its forces to worldwide peacekeeping operations. "There is more than enough to do in Iraq and Afghanistan," said Ian Walters, spokesman for the conservative political group.