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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 67/No. 28August 18, 2003

lead article
Imperialist-backed force
is deployed in Liberia
‘Peacekeeping’ troops aimed at
stronger position in West Africa
The amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (above) is leading a three-ship group carrying 2,300 U.S. Marines for intervention in Liberia. The ship is currently stationed off the coast of the West African nation, along with the USS Carter Hall and the USS Nashville. Hundreds of troops from Nigeria have already been deployed.
With the blessing of the United Nations Security Council, the deployment of an “international peacekeeping force” in Liberia began in the early morning of August 4. The initial elements of two Nigerian battalions, some 200 troops, were airlifted into the main airport in Monrovia, the West African nation’s capital, that day. At the same time, U.S. warships carrying as many as 2,300 Marines steamed just off the country’s coast.

Three days earlier, the UN Security Council authorized the deployment of a “multinational” force to intervene in Liberia “to support the implementation of the June 17, 2003 ceasefire agreement” between the warring parties. This includes, the resolution stated, “establishing conditions for initial stages of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration activities, to help establish and maintain security in the period after the departure of the current President and the installation of a successor authority.”

Washington was the main sponsor of the resolution.

The Security Council made the decision because it was “concerned over the conflict in Liberia and its effects on the humanitarian situation, including the tragic loss of countless innocent lives,” the resolution said. It added that “the situation in Liberia constitutes a threat to international peace and security, to stability in the West Africa subregion, and to the peace process in Liberia.”

The main purpose of the intervention under this “humanitarian” cover, however, is to advance the aim of the U.S. administration of securing exploration rights of oil reserves in the Gulf of Guinea, off West Africa’s coast. The government of Nigeria, which is providing the bulk of troops from Africa, is one of the main regimes in the region with which Washington is developing stronger relations.

Another 476 Nigerian troops equipped with armored personnel carriers are to be deployed within nine days. “I have told them to get the men ready,” said Brig. Gen. Festus Okonkwo, the Nigerian commander of the force. “When I come in on Monday it’s business,” he stated. When fully deployed, there could be as many as 1,500 Nigerian troops, augmented by 2,000 others from various countries who are members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

Pentagon officials continue to stress that the U.S. government has not made a decision yet to deploy troops ashore. They added, however, that “the leading option” is to deploy 300 Marines to begin with to provide communications for the Nigerian troops. The Marines are also equipped with artillery, armored vehicles, and attack helicopters.

Washington’s sponsorship of the Security Council resolution underscores its increasing drive to gain a larger foothold against its imperialist rivals in the oil-rich region of West Africa. U.S. president George Bush visited countries in the region during his recent tour in Africa—only the second U.S. president to conduct an official visit to the continent. When Bush began his tour, Gen. James Jones, chief of the U.S. European command that’s responsible for African operations, said Washington was negotiating long-term agreements for use of a “family” of military bases across Africa.

The resolution was passed by a vote of 12 to 0 with representatives of three governments in the 15-member council—France, Germany, and Mexico—abstaining. They objected to a paragraph that gives officers and troops of the UN-sanctioned force immunity from prosecution by the UN’s International Criminal Court should they be accused of crimes while in Liberia.Washington has not ratified the treaty that established the court and has negotiated bilateral agreements with other countries prohibiting them from turning over U.S. citizens to the court’s jurisdiction. It has suspended military assistance to 35 countries that refused to sign such an agreement.

In recent weeks a swell of prominent bourgeois politicians and liberal groups have called on the Bush administration to deploy U.S. troops at the head of the intervention in Liberia. Among them are U.S. secretary of state Colin Powell, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, the Archbishops of Monrovia and Sierra Leone, Human Rights Watch, the international relief agency Oxfam, and leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus and the NAACP.

An August 4 New York Times article noted that by contrast 82 percent of African Americans polled by the newspaper responded that Washington should “mind its own business,” when they were asked whether the U.S. government should try to change a dictatorship to a democracy or stay out. The Times also reported that some Black organizations support African intervention in Liberia but oppose the deployment of U.S. troops, among them TransAfrica Forum and the National Conference of Black Lawyers.

Democratic Party politicians and other liberals have been most vociferous in calling for military intervention in Liberia.

Conservatives have also backed the deployment of U.S. forces to the country, adding only that the administration needs to identify what are U.S. “national interests.” The day Bush ordered Marines to the Liberian coast, editors of the conservative Washington Times carried an editorial entitled, “The case for Liberia?”

“The White House has yet to identify what America’s interests, even broadly defined, could be,” it said. “While we are not prepared to expressly oppose deploying U.S. troops to Liberia, such an engagement appears to be ill-advised, unless a better case is soon made.”

The editors of the New York Times took the occasion of the UN Security Council action to call upon the Bush administration to order the Marines ashore and “join the West Africans in trying to impose a cease-fie and stop the killing. While he hesitates, Liberians die.”

In congressional hearings July 24, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Richard Myers warned of possible lengthy military involvement. Alluding to the ongoing civil war, Myers said, “It’s not going to give way to any instant fix. Whatever the fix is going to is going to have to be a long-term fix.”

As the Nigerian troops deployed, a spokesman for Liberian president Charles Taylor reiterated that he would resign office August 11 but added that the president would leave the country only after war crimes charges lodged against him have been dropped. Washington has demanded Taylor’s departure from the country before sending in troops.

In an interview with BBC, UN special envoy to Liberia Jacques Klein warned that if Taylor delayed his departure too much longer the offer to allow him to go into exile in Nigeria may be withdrawn. Despite the offer of exile, Klein added that Taylor must face justice once he has left the country. “I hope at some time a warrant would be served,” he said.

West African states have hosted talks in Accra, Ghana’s capital, between Taylor’s government and the armed groups opposing it.

Two armed forces are arrayed against the Taylor regime. Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) is a loose association of military groups and defectors from Taylor’s government. The second group, the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL), emerged from a factional split in the LURD in March. Both groups are divided along ethnic lines—with Mandingos supporting LURD, and MODEL based largely among Krahns.

Neither group has demonstrated popular support among Liberians. The larger LURD has been unable to capture Monrovia after two months of heavy mortar bombardment of the densely populated center of the city. Some 1,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed during the fighting.

As Taylor announced his plans to step down government troops were delivering what Reuters described as a “blistering” counteroffensive against LURD forces dislodging them from three strategic bridges entering the city.

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