OPERATION SHADOW EXPRESS


U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) deployed to Liberia in the fall of 1998 after violent civic unrest in Monrovia again threatened the U.S. Embassy.
On 18 September, government forces fired on Krahn leader Roosevelt Johnson and his entourage as they were talking to U.S. officials at the Embassy entrance. The attack wounded two U.S. personnel and killed four Krahn. The Americans returned fire, killing two policemen. The Americans and the Johnson party retreated into the embassy compound, setting the stage for an extended siege.

The next day, Liberian President Charles Taylor demanded Johnson's surrender, and an attack on the U.S. embassy appeared imminent. EUCOM responded by directing SOCEUR to dispatch a 12-man survey and assessment team (ESAT), which was led by Major Joe Becker, and Air Force SOF helicopter pilot, and Senior Chief Petty Officer Pat Ellis, a SEAL, and included several SOF intelligence specialists. The ESAT team arrived at the embassy on 21 September and, within a few hours, ascertained that an armed force was massing to attack the compound. SPCO Ellis and Major Becker alerted ECOMOG, a Nigerian-led African peacekeeping force then in Monrovia. The ESAT team and the Marine embassy guards developed a defense plan, with the ESAT on the chancery roof and the Marines defending from within the building. Shortly thereafter, an ECOMOG checkpoint stopped two truckloads of men armed with rocket propelled grenade launchers (RPGs) from approaching the embassy. The State Department successfully arranged for the Johnson entourage to relocate to a third country. The ESAT team planned the move, coordinated logistical support, and provided security for the Johnson group's departure.

On 26 September, the Defense Department ordered additional U.S. forces into the region. In anticipation of this mission, SOCEUR dispatched USS Chinook, a SOF coastal patrol boat from NSWU-10, toward Liberia from Rota, Spain, with an 11-meter rigid hull inflatable boat (RIB) and four special boat operators aboard. Within 12 hours of notification on the 26th, SOCEUR deployed a SOF command and control element from Naval Special Warfare Unit 2 (NSWU-2), accompanied by approximately 20 SEALs, two Air Force combat controllers, and an Air Force flight surgeon, on an MC-130 to a forward operating location in Freetown, Sierra Leone. The force landed in Freetown on the 27th. Chinook came in to Freetown's port 30 minutes after the aircraft landed, took 17 SEALs on board, and embarked for Liberia, with the remaining SOF staying in Freetown to maintain a technical operations center. By the 28th, Chinook was positioned 2000 yards offshore from the embassy, ready to provide an in-extremis response force.

From 29 September to 07 October, SOF maintained a highly visible maritime presence off the embassy's coastline. First, Chinook, and later a second patrol coastal vessel, USS Firebolt, surveyed Monrovia harbor and repeatedly conducted launch and recovery rehearsals of the RIB. The two patrol coastals also stood ready to evacuate the embassy, if necessary. The 10-day "presence operation" provided a calming influence on the situation and reaffirmed SOF's ability to deploy forces rapidly into an uncertain environment.


© Robert W. Kranz (2005) 
Information courtesy of: www.globalsecurity.org & AirForce Link