WASHINGTON – The commander of the Marine force off Liberia's coast is expected to take a group of aides ashore Tuesday to get preparations under way to reopen the port of the capital, Monrovia (search), and start humanitarian aid flowing.
In announcing the plan, Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) said he does not expect a large commitment of U.S. forces in Liberia should a cease-fire remain in place.
"There might be a small requirement for liaison," Powell said Monday. "But there are unique capabilities with the Marine expeditionary unit that might be useful in securing and putting the port back in operation and letting humanitarian workers get ashore."
In Denver, where President Bush was raising money for next year's re-election campaign, he gave no hint whether exile of President Charles Taylor (search) moved Bush closer to sending more troops into the war-ravaged country than a handful of Marines already deployed to give logistical help.
Taylor's departure "is an important step toward a better future for the Liberian people," Bush said. "The United States will work with the Liberian people and the international community to achieve a lasting peace after a decade of suffering."
Powell said there was a desperate need for food because port warehouses of the United Nations and nongovernmental organizations had been looted. He said three ships carrying humanitarian supplies were waiting off the coast and U.N. and other representatives were ready to go to work.
Powell said the force commander, Army Maj. Gen. Thomas Turner, would meet with the Nigerian commander of the West African peacekeeping forces (search), the U.S. ambassador in Monrovia and U.N. and other officials on how to get the port open.
He said the United States was "very pleased with the peaceful and constitutional transfer of power" from Taylor to his vice president, Moses Blah, and Taylor's departure for Nigeria.
"We hope that all the parties to this conflict will now recognize it is time for the conflict to end," Powell said. "We've been working hard to fix the cease-fire in place."
He said the United States was prepared "to do everything we can to assist in the transition to an interim government and ultimately elections so the Liberian people can freely and openly elect their leadership."
Powell spoke to reporters outside the State Department after meeting with Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. special representative for Afghanistan.
Three U.S. warships, carrying more than 2,000 Marines, appeared off Liberia's coast Monday but officials at the Pentagon said there was no immediate plan to send more Marines ashore to help with peacekeeping or humanitarian relief.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the mission of the U.S. forces remained as it described by President Bush on July 25: to support the West African peacekeeping forces. He said Bush had made no additional decisions about how that would be done.
The three-ship task force that moved to within sight of Liberians in Monrovia are the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima, the dock landing ship USS Carter Hall and the amphibious transport dock USS Nashville, with about 2,300 Marines and 2,500 sailors aboard.
Last week, a liaison team of seven Marines went ashore to the headquarters of the multinational West African peacekeeping force in Monrovia to help coordinate logistics support. A small number of other U.S. troops are in the capital to bolster security at the U.S. Embassy.