Faced with a flare-up in Liberia's civil war, the US late Sunday ordered 41 additional troops to the capital of the West African nation, which has been under attack by rebel forces seeking the ouster of President Charles Taylor.
The Defense Department said the soldiers, belonging to a naval "anti-terrorism security team" based in Rota, Spain, will join US marines currently guarding the US Embassy in Monrovia.
But there was no indication US President George W. Bush was any closer to making a decision on US participation in a peacekeeping force being considered for Liberia, despite the spiraling violence.
The deployment was ordered by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld at the request of US Ambassador John Blaney, according to a Pentagon statement.
A Pentagon spokeswoman declined to provide any further details.
The move comes as Liberian government troops are locked in a fierce battle with advancing rebels for control of the war-ravaged capital.
On Sunday, government forces repulsed a rebel advance on two key bridges that lead to the heart of Monrovia, where many diplomatic missions are located.
However, heavy fighting continued to rage in the city center, with at least five rockets landing there in the afternoon, sparking fresh panic among desperate local residents.
The deployment order was followed by a new US government appeal to all warring parties for an immediate restoration of a short-lived June 17 ceasefire brokered by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
"Liberia's path to peace is through the multi-party peace talks led by former Nigerian President [Abdulsalami] Abubakar," State Department Deputy spokesman Philip Reeker said late Sunday in a written statement.
These talks are being conducted in the Ghanaian capital of Accra.
He added that the Bush administration was "deeply concerned" about the latest round of fighting, arguing that the people of Liberia were the ultimate victims of this violence.
"All parties in Liberia must immediately recognize that their actions will have dire consequences for their nation," warned the deputy spokesman.
He said the US continued to work closely with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and ECOWAS leaders in their attempts to bring peace and stability to Liberia.
US Secretary of State Colin Powell had two telephone conversations with Annan Sunday to examine ways to defuse the crisis, according to a US official.