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U.S. Soldiers Prepare to Aid in Liberia

Aired August 13, 2003 - 19:24   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: The chaos continues inside Liberia today, civilians looting the port as rebels prepare to leave that part of the capital, Monrovia.
Now, once the rebels leave that would ease U.N. efforts to bring aid into the country, desperately needed. There are also American efforts trying to restore peace. U.S. warships carry more than 2,000 Marines sit in the waters off Liberia's coast.

At the Pentagon tonight Chris Plante has details of the U.S. defense strategy.

Chris, any word as to whether some U.S. Marines could get involved in peacekeeping mission in Liberia?

CHRIS PLANTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we did, in fact, get word today, Anderson, that 200 more U.S. Marines will go ashore from those ships that have been steaming within sight of the coast line there for better that a week now.

There are about 100 U.S. Marines now on the ground there, primarily providing security at the embassy. Two hundred more Marines will go in and take up positions, along with Nigerian peacekeepers, approximately 750 Nigerian peacekeepers on the ground there.

U.S. Marines will go in, team up with them, help the Nigerian peacekeepers go from the airport over to the seaport and restore order there. There's been a good deal of chaos at that location today.

So the Marines hopefully not involved in a combat role but will provide combat support, if necessary to Nigerian peacekeepers already on the ground.

Now, the general who is the director of operations for the joint chiefs of staff at the Pentagon, today, had this to say about the mission.


LT. GEN. NORTON SCHWARTZ, DIRECTOR OF OPERATION: The purpose of the mission for joint task force Liberia still is in four major areas.

The first was to assess the readiness of Echo Mill forces from the various contributing countries. To provide training if required was the second. The third was to assist Echo Mill in order to achieve their objective of obtaining security and stability in the Monrovia area. And the fourth one was to provide a reaction capability in the event that the Echo Mill forces get in trouble.


PLANTE: So that assistance to the military forces, the Nigerians there on the ground, will begin tomorrow. U.S. Navy SEALs will also be working to clear the waterways to make sure that it's safe to bring humanitarian relief ships into the docks there -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Chris Plante at the Pentagon, thanks very much.

And with the prospect of U.S. troops getting involved in Liberia the future suddenly looks brighter. Yet the country is still in dire need of urgent humanitarian assistance.

Jeff Koinange joins us live from Monrovia.

Jeff, Charles Taylor is gone. African peacekeepers are on the ground. U.S. troops might even get involved soon. Does all this translate into a more peaceful situation on the streets right now?


And today was one example that things aren't going to be easy. Tens of thousands of Liberians out on a looting spree in the Freeport area of Monrovia, barely 24 hours before peacekeepers and U.S. troops secure that port.

And they went from warehouse to warehouse, Anderson, stripping everything from food, rice, beans, wheat flour. Anything and everything they could get they took, Anderson, barely 24 hours before that port is secured.

COOPER: Jeff, you look at those images and so many of those, those soldiers, those fighters are children. Now that peace seems at hand, what's going to happen to these kids, some of them who have killed? Do they know any other reality than war?

KOINANGE: Absolutely. And for most of them, Anderson, they are usually in their preteens. They're normally pumped up with drugs before being sent out in the battlefield as lean mean killing machines.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kill our enemy.

KOINANGE (voice-over): He calls himself General Come Down to My Level. He's only 16, but says he's been fighting for more than half his life.

(on camera) Why do they call you that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because once I see my enemy they always come down to my level and they shouldn't come down to my level.

KOINANGE (voice-over): They are easy to recruit, easy to train and easy to pump full of ideology.

This one calls himself Colonel Bad Blood. He's only 14 years old.

The more flamboyant the name, it seems, the more respect they feel they'll get.

This is 13-year-old Captain Bush Shaking.

While this is 11-year-old Lieutenant Snake in the Grass.

(on camera) Nobody really knows how many child soldiers have fought in this Liberian conflict. Thousands, maybe even tens of thousands.

(voice-over) On both sides, child soldiers fought in former President Charles Taylor's army, while these fought on the side of LURD rebels.

Most of these child soldiers know little about peace. Their young lives spent serving the violence that has plagued their country for years.

During this hesitant cease-fire, they danced the time away. Most, saying they would rather be elsewhere.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to go to school.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to go back to school to learn.

KOINANGE: Liberia's defense minister thinks the nation's future depends on education.

DANIEL CHEA, LIBERIAN DEFENSE MINISTER: Unless we demilitarize the brains of our people, the peace that we are looking for is going to be short lived.


KOINANGE: Now, Anderson, one of the tough tasks facing the incoming government is how to disarm, demobilize and reintegrate child soldiers back into society. Not an easy task by any standards, Anderson.

COOPER: Demilitarizing the brain, a fascinating concept. Jeff, thanks very much for the report.

Now the young fighters of Liberia aren't the first children to have taken up arms. As we can see in this flashback, Johnny and Luther Htoo -- you remember them? -- captured international attention as the leaders of God's Army. The chain-smoking, rifle toting kids led a band of Burmese rebels. Followers believed these kids had magical powers, couldn't be hurt by bullets.

They gave themselves up with the Burmese army hot on their trail, crossing over and surrendering to troops in Thailand. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT

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