On April 6, 1996, fighting broke out between rival militias in Liberia. Some 20,000 civilians took refuge at the United States embassy to escape the bloody battles, and in the following weeks hundreds of civilians were killed and much of downtown Monrovia was destroyed.
The fighting began when the Council of State—a temporary governing body implemented in the run-up to elections, including Charles Taylor and Alhaji Kromah—ordered its forces to arrest General Roosevelt Johnson of the United Liberation Movement (ULIMO-J) on charges of murder. Reports had been circulating since January claiming that his forces were responsible for the massacre of 50 civilians. Johnson was not given a seat on the Council of State and staged an occupation of the Barclay Training Center, which erupted in street fighting.
Approximately 3,000 US Marines were deployed aboard ships in waters off the Liberian coast, and 276 heavily armed troops were deployed on the ground to the US embassy. By the end of the month, the US forces would go into action in the country.
The renewed outbreak of civil war marked the collapse of the previous US strategy of relying on a West African peace-keeping force, comprised mainly of Nigerian troops, to stabilize Liberia. Press reports said that the peace-keeping troops were poorly fed and largely demoralized, with many soldiers joining teenage Liberian militia fighters in a campaign of looting.
In place of the West African force, the Clinton administration prepared to use American troops. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State William Twadell arrived in Liberia at the end of April as a virtual US pro-consul, meeting with militia leaders Taylor and Kromah and threatening destruction for anyone who violated the terms decreed by Washington. “Should anyone seize power by force,” he warned, “my government will seek to ostracize and isolate that leader and any illegal government that might ensue.”
Twadell announced that the Clinton administration would provide up to $30 million to finance the West African force, which maintained nearly 10,000 troops in Liberia.