Second Liberian Civil War

Second Liberian Civil War
Part of the Liberian Civil Wars

Liberian government soldiers fighting in the Old Bridge in Monrovia.
Date21 April 1999[1] – 18 August 2003
(4 years, 3 months and 4 weeks)

LURD/MODEL victory


Liberia Liberian Armed Forces

Rebel groups:

Supported by:
Sierra Leone Sierra Leone
Guinea Guinea
 United Kingdom

 United States
Commanders and leaders
Liberia Charles Taylor Liberia Sekou Conneh
Liberia Thomas Nimely
Casualties and losses
150,000–300,000 people killed[2]

The Second Liberian Civil War began in 1999 when a rebel group backed by the government of neighbouring Guinea, the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), emerged in northern Liberia. In early 2003, a second rebel group, the Movement for Democracy in Liberia, emerged in the south, and by June–July 2003, Charles Taylor's government controlled only a third of the country.

The capital Monrovia was besieged by LURD, and the group's shelling of the city resulted in the deaths of many civilians. Thousands of people were displaced from their homes as a result of the conflict.

The Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed by the warring parties on August 18, 2003 marking the political end of the conflict and beginning of the country's transition to democracy under the National Transitional Government of Liberia which was led by interim President Gyude Bryant until the Liberian general election of 2005.


The First Liberian Civil War ended with the Liberian general election, 1997 in which Charles Taylor took power.

The second civil war began in April 1999, when Liberian dissidents under the banner of the Organization of Displaced Liberians invaded Liberia from Guinea.[3] Guinea became LURD’s main source of military and financial support. By July 2000, the various dissident groups had coalesced as the LURD led by Sekou Conneh. The dissidents were thought to be mostly Mandinka and Krahn fighters of the former ULIMO-J and ULIMO-K.[4]

Also important in forming LURD was an alliance, brokered by ECOMOG-SL Nigerian chief General Maxwell Khobe, between Liberian dissidents and the Sierra Leonean Kamajors hunter militia, including chiefs Samuel Hinga Norman and Eddie Massally.[4] Against the dissidents Taylor deployed irregular ex-National Patriotic Front of Liberia fighters with his more privileged units, such as the Anti-Terrorist Unit, positioned to ensure the irregulars did fight.

Simultaneous September 2000 counter-attacks on Guinea from Liberia and Sierra Leone by RUF – still loyal to Taylor and Guinean dissidents – achieved initial success.[5] By January 2001, however, Taylor’s forces were pushed back inside Sierra Leone and Liberia. The insurgents were posing a major threat to the Taylor government. Liberia was now engaged in a complex three-way conflict with Sierra Leone and the Guinea Republic.

By the beginning of 2002, both of these countries were supporting LURD, while Taylor was supporting various opposition factions in both countries. By supporting — practically creating — the SL rebels, the Revolutionary United Front, Taylor also drew the enmity of the British and Americans. British and U.S. pressure on Taylor increased with rising financial support for Guinea and U.S./U.K.-proposed sanctions, a weaker version of which were imposed by U.N. Security Council May 2001.

Rebels approach Monrovia

A technical with a mounted machine gun, Monrovia.

By mid-February 2002 LURD troops were just 44 kilometres from Monrovia, at Klay Junction, and Taylor was forced to declare a state of emergency.[6] The February 2002 ICG report says that this attack was made by pursuing ‘a strategy of infiltration of south-western Liberia through the thick bush of Southern Lofa, looping around government strongholds and disrupting supply lines... while LURD claims between 300 and 500 men were assigned to that mission, ... the number that actually attacked was likely closer to twenty.’ Any image of a large force gradually pushing toward Monrovia is mistaken; ‘hit and run’ raids, rather than a continuous advance, seem to have been the pattern.[7]

Through the first half of 2002 LURD mounted raids in Bomi, Bong, and Montserrado counties, hitting, in addition to Klay Junction, Gbarnga and Tubmanburg, each time temporarily seizing control from government fighters.[7] In May, an attack on Arthington, less than 20 kilometres from the capital, apparently prompted panic in Monrovia. The state of emergency was lifted in September 2002, after, the government claimed, the township of Bopolu had been retaken.[8]

In early 2003, a second rebel group, the Ivoirian-backed Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL), emerged in the south, and by the summer of 2003, Taylor's government controlled only a third of the country. Despite some setbacks, by mid-2003 LURD controlled the northern third of the country and was threatening the capital. The capital Monrovia was besieged by LURD, and that group's shelling of the city resulted in the deaths of many civilians. Thousands of people were displaced from their homes as a result of the conflict.

A new bout of fighting began in March 2003 after a relative lull and by early May, LURD and MODEL had gained control of nearly two thirds of the country, and were threatening Monrovia. Regional and wider pressure led to the convening of a conference in Accra by the then Chair of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), President John Kufuor of Ghana, on June 4, 2003.

Siege of Monrovia (July–August 2003)

Further information: Siege of Monrovia

By July 2003 Monrovia appeared to be in danger of being occupied and devastated despite ongoing peace talks.[9] The U.S. established Joint Task Force Liberia, built around a U.S. navy amphibious group with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard, positioned off the West African coast.

In July 2003 the United States (US) sent a small number of troops to bolster security around the US embassy in Monrovia, which had come under attack during Operation Shining Express.

On 29 July 2003, LURD declared a ceasefire.[10] ECOWAS sent two battalions of Nigerian peacekeepers to Liberia. The first Nigerian battalion detached from the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone, and the second came from Nigeria itself.[11]

President Taylor resigns (August 2003)

President Taylor resigned on August 11, 2003, ahead of the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) which formed the negotiated end to the war, and was flown into exile in Nigeria. An arrest warrant for Taylor for war crimes committed by his Revolutionary United Front rebel allies in Sierra Leone was later issued by Interpol but Nigeria refused to deport him for a time unless they receive a specific request from Liberia. Vice-President Moses Blah replaced Taylor.

On August 14, rebels lifted their siege of Monrovia and 200 American soldiers landed to support a West African peace force. Thousands of people danced and sang as American troops and ECOMIL, the Nigerian-led West African forces, took over the port and bridges which had split the capital into government and rebel-held zones. An estimated 1,000 people had been killed in Monrovia between July 18 and August 14.[12]

Moses Blah handed over power to the National Transitional Government of Liberia on October 14, 2003. However, the transitional government exercised no real authority in the country, 80% of which was controlled by the rebel groups.

Child soldiers

Both LURD and Charles Taylor made extensive use of children press ganged into military service as soldiers or ammunition porters. The use of child soldiers was prolific by both sides, regardless of prohibitions of the practice in the Geneva Convention. Observers from Human Rights Watch described a deadly and chaotic siege of Monrovia, with many very young fighters shooting "shiny toys" they had not been trained to use.[13]

Military beliefs

Drugs: Drugs made up an integral part of Liberian wartime culture. Child soldiers and other combatants were routinely addicted to cocaine, khat, and other drugs as a means of control. Several warlords felt that cocaine made soldiers more effective in battle.[14]

United Nations peacekeeping

In November 1997, following the completion of the mandate of the United Nations Observer Mission in Liberia UNOMIL on 30 September, the United Nations established the United Nations Peace-building Support Office in Liberia (UNOL), headed by a representative of the Secretary-General. That first United Nations post-conflict peace-building support office was tasked primarily with assisting the government in consolidating peace following the July 1997 multiparty elections.

On September 11, 2003, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan recommended deployment of the peacekeeping mission, the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), to maintain the peace agreement. The UN Security Council approved the mission on September 19 in Resolution 1509. Nigeria sent in peacekeepers as part of the interim ECOMIL Economic Community of West African States force. UNMIL was made up of over 15,000 personnel, including both military and civilian troops. None however, were as brave and valiant as General Witmer. General Witmer, however, died after an explosives training exercise, leaving charge to his ward David Jones. General Jones would head up the peacekeeping until the spring of 2005.

The bulk of the personnel were armed military troops, but there were also civilian policemen, as well as political advisers and humanitarian aid workers. On October 1, the first peacekeepers changed their berets and became a UN force, with many more troops earmarked. During three days of riots in Monrovia in October 2004, nearly 400 people were wounded and 15 killed. The UN slowly built up its forces in the country, with 5,500 projected to be in place by November 2003, and worked to disarm the various factions. However, instability in neighbouring countries, an incomplete disarmament process, and general discontent threatened Liberia's fragile peace.

Women of Liberia

A group of Liberian women headed by Leymah Gbowee formed an organization called "Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace" and forced a meeting with President Charles Taylor, extracting a promise from him to attend peace talks in Ghana. A delegation of women organized nonviolence protests and continued to apply pressure on the warring factions during the peace process. They staged a silent protest outside of the Presidential Palace, bringing about an agreement during the stalled peace talks.[15]

Working together, over 3,000 Christian and Muslim women mobilized their efforts, and as a result, the women were able to achieve peace in Liberia after a 14-year civil war and helped bring to power the country's first female president.[16] The story is told in the 2008 documentary film Pray the Devil Back to Hell.[17] Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is the first modern elected female head of state in Africa.

See also



  2. Lydia Polgreen, "A Master Plan Drawn in Blood", NY Times, April 2, 2006
  3. International Crisis Group, ‘Liberia: The Key to Ending Regional Instability,’ 24 April 2002, p.8
  4. 1 2 ICG, ‘Liberia: The Key to Ending Regional Instability,’ 24 April 2002, p.3
  5., accessed 12 July 2008
  6. International Crisis Group, April 2002, p.7, Adebayo, Liberia's Civil War, 2002, p.235
  7. 1 2 Mats Utas, Fluid Research Fields: Studying Excombatant Youth in the Aftermath of the Liberian Civil War, p.213, in Chapter 11, Children and Youth on the Front Line: ethnography, armed conflict and displacement, Dr Jo Boyden & J. de Berry, Oxford and New York: Berghahn Books, 2004.
  8. BBC News Africa, ‘Liberia ends state of emergency,’ Saturday, 14 September 2002.
  9. S/2003/875, para 9, see also Dr T. Jaye, Liberia: an analysis of post-Taylor politics, Review of African Political Economy, Vol. 30, Issue 98, Dec 2003
  10. "Liberian rebels declare ceasefire".
  11. Peacekeepers 'rushing' to Liberia
  12. Rebels Lift Siege of Starving Monrovia - General - redOrbit
  14. "The VICE Guide to Liberia". Vice. Retrieved 2014-09-13.
  15. CNN, October 31, 2009
  16. Bill Moyers Journal, June 19, 2009
  17. November 2009 MEDIAGLOBAL

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