Byline: Joseph Curl, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
President Bush said he was not going to be rushed into making a decision on whether to send as many as 2,000 U.S. troops to Liberia to lead peacekeeping efforts - a decision officials across the administration had predicted would be made yesterday.
"I recognize the United States has got a ... unique history with Liberia. And, therefore, it's created a certain sense of expectations. But I also want to make sure that there are certain expectations met as well," the president said yesterday.
As Mr. Bush continued to weigh his decision, pleas for U.S. help grew louder in Liberia, a country founded by freed American slaves in 1847, and the Pentagon ordered the U.S. military commander in Europe to begin planning for any intervention in the West African nation.
About 2,000 Liberians marched to the U.S. Embassy in the capital, Monrovia, yesterday, walking behind an American flag and chanting slogans denouncing their president, Charles Taylor.
They chanted: "No more Taylor. We want Bush. We want peace."
Gen. James Jones, who leads U.S. troops in Europe, was sent a "warning order" directive overnight yesterday, asking him to give the Pentagon an assessment of how the situation in Liberia could be handled.
Options range from sending no U.S. troops - which, several administration officials said, is increasingly unlikely - to sending thousands. Officials said the most likely option is dispatching 500 to 1,000 troops to coordinate logistics and assist nongovernmental organizations in peacekeeping efforts.
While several officials in the State Department and the Pentagon had predicted Wednesday that there would be a decision by yesterday, Mr. Bush said he has not made up his mind.
"I am in the process of gathering the information necessary to make a rational decision as to how to ... enforce the cease-fire in place," he told African journalists ahead of his trip to the continent next week.
Mr. Bush chastised reporters for getting ahead of the story. Several cable networks and newspapers reported that the president had decided to send troops to Liberia.
"You know, you read all kinds of things, of course, in American newspapers - it's sport here. I'm sure it is elsewhere, as well. The gathering of the speculator, the leaker, the whatever - what do you call them? The source - people speaking out loud, 'The president has done this, the president is thinking this,'" he said, prompting laughter.
"Look, once the strategy is in place, I will let people know whether or not I'm airborne or not. In other words, ... I don't need to dramatize the decision. It's getting plenty of attention here at home."
Mr. Bush said he was awaiting a report from the Economic Community of West African States, which yesterday discussed the Liberian crisis in Accra, Ghana.
"We had a meeting there with our military thinkers to determine feasibility, to look at different options, and they have yet to report back to the White House," Mr. Bush said.
U.S. defense officials had said Wednesday that the administration was mulling a plan to send several hundred U.S. troops to lead a larger multinational peacekeeping operation. The Pentagon has put together contingency plans for using up to 2,000 troops and is prepared to move if ordered, they said.
Few, however, think the number will be that high. …