In mid-1990 increasing internal unrest threatened U.S. diplomats and civilians in Liberia.
Since December 1989, civil war had raged between rival Liberian factions, and the safety of American citizens could no
longer be guaranteed. Tension grew as rebel leader Prince Johnson said he would begin rounding up foreigners to force
foreign intervention in his fight against Liberian President Samuel Doe. Johnson threatened to attack U. S. Marines at
the embassy if the United States did not intervene on the rebel side.
Despite the efforts of a force of 11,500 sent by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in 1990, and
numerous subsequent diplomatic initiatives and peace conferences, fighting continued, fueled by exploitation of the
country's natural resources by the faction leaders and shadowy international business associates.
As the war spread from the interior toward the Liberian capital of Monrovia amid widespread death and destruction, the
United States responded to the deteriorating situation by dispatching four warships with 2,300 marines to evacuate
Americans and other foreigners who were in the country. Elements of a Marine Expeditionary Unit embarked in the USS
Saipan (LHA-2) amphibious ready group provided support to the US Embassy and stood by to evacuate American citizens and
others from 2 June to 5 August. They evacuated a total of 2,609 people between 5 August 1990 and 9 January 1991. The US
decided not to intervene to contain the unfolding catastrophe.
On 5 August 1990, Marines from a U.S. Task Force off the coast of Liberia began an evacuahon operation which eventually
rescued 2,690 people, including 330 U.S. citizens, from the war-torn capital city of Monrovia. Operation SHARP EDGE began
with a pre-dawn meeting in the wardroom of USS Saipan (LHA 2) to finalize a plan that had been in the works for nearly
two months. During that time, Saipan and her Amphibious Ready Group, consisting of USS Ponce (LPD 15), USS Sumter (LST
1181), Fleet Surgical Team TWO and the destroyer USS Peterson (DD 969), waited off the coast for orders to begin
As dawn broke, more than 200 Marines from HOTEL Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines climbed into CH-46 Sea Knight and
CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters for the 20-mile ride to the U.S. embassy compound in Monrovia and commenced the
non-combatant evacuation operation. They evacuated not only Americans, but also Liberian, Italian, Canadian and French
nationals during an operation which lasted until 30 November, when opposing forces agreed to a cease-fire. Sailors and
Marines from the task force also provided humanitarian assistance, airlifting food, water, fuel and medical supplies to
the ravaged city.
Navy support for the operation, the longest-running non-combatant evacuation operation in recent naval history, ended 9
January, when the amphibious transport dock USS Nashville (LPD 13), Helicopter Combat Support Squadron FOUR (HCS 4) and
elements of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit departed the Liberian coastal area known during the operation as
Just a few days before SHARP EDGE ended, another civil war threatened American lives. USS Guam (LPH 9) and USS Trenton
(LPD 14) with Marines from the 4th Marine Expeditionary Brigade embarked, raced from their DESERT SHIELD stations in the
North Arabian Sea to rescue Americans and foreign nationals threatened by war in Somalia.