MONROVIA, Liberia – Liberians (search) reacted with anger after President Bush ordered troops into position off Liberia's coast but stopped short of saying whether Marines would go ashore, on a day artillery fire killed at least 26 people.
Pentagon (search) officials said Friday that the only major troop movement in the works was the dispatching of three Navy ships carrying hundreds of Marines to the waters off the Liberian coast.
The troops were sent to assist the arrival of the first West African troops of a 3,250-member international peacekeeping force. Nigeria plans to deploy two battalions within days.
Monrovia's (search) residents had pleaded for U.S. deployment in the nation founded by freed American slaves as rebels pressed home their 3-year war to drive out Liberian President Charles Taylor. A few weeks ago, even false rumors of U.S. Marines landing were enough to set off dancing and singing in the streets.
But many have grown angry after weeks of waiting amid increasing violence. Some wondered why Bush was bothering at all now. On Friday, the bloodiest barrage in days, shells crashed into the U.S. Embassy grounds and a school packed with refugees in the rebel-besieged capital.
Bush's announcement of the deployment was broadcast over the radio here as refugee families gathered bodies of love ones -- all victims of a daybreak mortar attack that killed at least 26 and wounded more than 200.
"Why so late, when people are dying?" Momo Barley asked in the streets around the U.S. Embassy, the densely populated neighborhood that took the brunt of Friday's pounding by up to 20 mortar rounds.
Three waves of attacks have killed hundreds in the capital. About 1.3 million residents hang on, gripped by hunger, thirst, epidemics and fear.
Bush said the troops' role would be limited and the mission's purpose would be "to relieve human suffering."
One shell Friday struck inside the U.S. Embassy compound, exploding harmlessly on rocky ground, a U.S. official inside said.
Other rounds killed refugees, who have crowded around the embassy by the thousands in hope of protection through proximity to the Americans.
"I want to tell George Bush to do something hurriedly, very fast and quickly," Emmanuel Sieh, 28, cried earlier Friday, as crowds spilled out into the streets following a fierce barrage.
Both sides in Liberia's war have accused the other of shelling the capital, and it was not clear who was behind Friday's barrage.
Rebel leaders welcomed word of the American deployment, ordering their forces to cooperate with any Americans and to cease-fire, something Bush has set as a condition to troops participating. The rebels have repeatedly broken promises for a cease-fire, as have government forces.
Taylor's government's also welcomed Bush's announcement but expressed annoyance at his past demands that Taylor step down as part of any peace effort.
"We have always recognized that the United States is the superpower of the world and their presence in the international peacekeeping force in Liberia might make things easier to disarm the rebels," said Vaanii Paasawe, Taylor's spokesman.
"We are only surprised that as a democracy itself, the United States could play the role it has in Liberia," Paasawe said.
Taylor, blamed for 14 years of near perpetual conflict in Liberia, has retreated to his mansion by the sea, his forces battling to block insurgents from crossing bridges into downtown.
Taylor, sought by a U.N.-backed court for alleged war crimes in neighboring Sierra Leone, has promised to step down when foreign peacekeepers arrive. But he has repeatedly hedged on promises since June to cede power.