The US team arrived in Monrovia on Monday at the heavily fortified US embassy.

The 20-member team is seen as a possible precursor to a larger force, which the United States is considering and Liberians are praying will come in to save them from nearly 14 years of violence.

"We are here to see what we will need to bring with us to provide humanitarian assistance," said the commander, Captain Roger Coldiron. "I am not here to assess the military situation, but I am here to assess the security situation."

US President George Bush, due in Africa on Tuesday, has not yet decided whether to send peacekeepers to the country founded by freed American slaves in the 19th century. He insists that the first step should be Taylor's departure.

West African countries however, have pledged 3000 troops and want US forces to help them bring that up to 5000, but Washington has not forgotten the bloody withdrawal from Somalia 10 years ago after a humanitarian intervention went awry.

Taylor accepts offer

Besieged by rebels and wanted for war crimes by an international court, Taylor said on Sunday he had accepted an offer of asylum from regional giant Nigeria and just wanted to make sure an international force was in place to prevent chaos.

Pressure for Taylor to step down has grown since rebel attacks on Monrovia left 700 dead last month. He is accused of masterminding wars across West Africa, holds barely a third of Liberia and is wanted by Sierra Leone's war crimes court.

Although Sierra Leone's war crimes court has vowed to pursue Taylor even if he goes to Nigeria, President Olusegun Obasanjo made clear on Sunday that he would not be pressured.

Nigeria has no law under which Taylor could be extradited to face the court.

Liberian President Charles Taylor
has agreed to resign

Locals hope for larger presence

The US team will start work on Tuesday, visiting camps for tens of thousands of refugees from Liberia’s civil war. It will also include water purification, preventative medicine, construction and logistics.

But some Liberians are hoping for a much larger US military presence

“What are they waiting for?," said one man after learning that the team that flew in on Monday were not the longed-for peacekeepers to keep apart the warring factions.

Any bigger operation would be certain to raise questions in the United States given heavy commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee has said Congress should vote on sending any troops to Liberia.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Britain and France all want a leading US role and ministers preparing an agenda for the upcoming African Union summit in Mozambique also added pressure on the United States.

Liberians say they want US peacekeepers because they fear that no others will win the necessary respect from fighters. But the concern however – as Taylor himself has suggested – is that fighters and rebels would run wild if no force was in place by the time he left.