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‘Operation Octopus’

-A Reflection on Charles Taylor, John Richardson’s killing of Over 3000 People in A Subtle Attempt to Take Monrovia by Force of Arms

October 15, will make it exactly 27 years since Charles Taylor and band of rebels launched a military onslaught on the city of Monrovia in 1992, in a subtle attempt to seize power from Interim President Dr. Amos Sawyer. J. Lyndon Ponnie, a Liberian Journalist who extensively covered the battle, mirrors on what happened during that time.

It was on a Saturday afternoon when rocket rounds started to fall on the Gardnersville suburbs of Monrovia. The first round hit the Zu David Town Junction in Iron Factory. People nearby ran to the spot to see what was happening, and then a second rocket came and smashed off a few people and injured several others.
Hours later, rockets started to rain on different locations of the suburbs making everybody to run in different directions not knowing what was happening and what to do.

On the next day, which was Sunday, this author and another Journalist, Momulu V.O. Sirleaf, ventured on the Taylor Major Compound in Caldwell where Prince Johnson had his headquarters to find out what was happening because it was rumored in Monrovia that it was PYJ who was firing the rockets into Monrovia.

By that time, ECOMOG forces had blocked the Caldwell Bridge refusing anyone in and out of Caldwell. But when we got there and identified ourselves as Journalists and that we were going to talk to the INPFL PYJ to find out what was happening, the ECOMOG commander in the area ordered that we be allowed to proceed to the Caldwell base.

Riding in a chartered taxi cab driven by a Ghanaian only identified as Emmanuel, we slowly hit the bridge and at the other end was a checkpoint manned by INPFL forces and in the background was sound of sporadic gun fire.

“Stop!” The INPFL rebel soldiers sounded in Unison. “Who are you and where are you going? Don’t you know we are at war and that NPFL forces are attacking us?” They all asked again together. And I said, this is why we are going to see the Field Marshall, referring to INPFL rebel leader Prince Johnson.

They then asked us to wait a few minutes. After consulting, they later gave us the green light to go. So we were taken to the base by a few armed soldiers.

On the base, PYJ was very angry why we went in the area in the midst of the heavy fighting. Later on he ordered us to sit on the ground and instructed General Samuel Varney to make sure the area was secured while we were talking.

He said: “Journalists, listen and listen very well. I am under attack from Charles Taylor and his NPFL forces because I refused to join him to attack Monrovia to seize power from Amos Sawyer. “Look in here.” He showed us two containers. In the containers Gen. Johnson revealed, were dozens of soldiers from the NPFL.

Minutes later, he brought a big bottle of Gordon gin and said drink. But VO Sirleaf, my colleague who accompanied me is a Muslim, he could not drink, so we said thank you sir. He shouted, “I say drink!” So I took the bottle from VO Sirleaf and took a sip. And PYJ continued with his narration. “These guys in these containers will be killed tonight. Yes I will kill them.”

At that moment, his wife, Amy, was gathering dozens of kids who were taking refuge on the base. She assembled them near the Stockton Creek and was planning to use canoes to get them cross into safety zone.

He shouted again: “go and tell the world that I am not the one throwing the rockets. It is John T. Richardson and John Teah that are doing that. Please tell ECOMOG that we are in danger and want to surrender. Go, go!” he ordered us out of the base with escort from his men.

On our way back, we met the ECOMOG Commander on the Caldwell Bridge and told him what Prince Johnson had said and then we returned to the offices of the EYE Newspaper on Ashmun Street.

The following day, the chief spokesman of Charles Taylor’s terror, John T. Richardson announced on the BBC, of the launch of “Operation Octopus”. Operation Octopus is the code name for the attack on Monrovia.

He revealed that his NPFL soldiers were everywhere and would take Monrovia in matters of hours and asked Interim President Dr. Amos Sawyer to leave, while his men were attacking ECOMOG positions and the suburbs of Monrovia, including the Caldwell Base of Prince Johnson who had earlier planned the operation with Taylor.

General Johnson later declined and called for ECOMOG’s assistance when it was clear the NPFL had overwhelmingly infiltrated his base.

The destruction of lives and properties in Monrovia was enormous. Prince Y. Johnson was rescued by ECOMOG and resettled into exile in Nigeria.

The Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU) of Dr. Amos Sawyer was forced to negotiate with ULIMO forces for help. ULIMO came in from Tubmanburg. They hit NPFL forces from the back in the White plain area and flushed them from Caldwell after they (NPFL) had overrun Prince Johnson forces.

The Armed Forces of Liberia under General Hezekiah Bowen and Black Beret, a special military force trained in Guinea by Brownie J. Samukai for IGNU were already in the frontline in the Gardnersville suburbs alongside ECOMOG troops.

Taylor used the lull in hostilities after the Yamoussoukro IV Accord of October 30, 1991, to rearm, reorganize and build up his armory while, requesting former US President Jimmy Carter to prevail on ECOMOG to reduce its heavy weapons in Liberia which was in “peace times”.

According to information, ECOMOG obliged to the request of the former U.S. President.
‘Operation Octopus’ caught ECOMOG off guard without the heavy weaponry and at a time when the Force Command was also changing hands. ECOMOG was being overrun by NPFL until Gen.
Doungoyaro, a new Nigerian Force Commander took charge. Before Doungoyaro could land in Monrovia, he had ordered his forces to clear the surrounding of Monrovia.

At that time, ECOMOG had reinforced its air power with heavy bombardment from the air and missiles launch from Nigerian and Ghanaian war ships. There was an emergency ECOWAS summit to mobilize more forces to defend Monrovia from falling to NPFL. The Ghanaians, Guineans and Senegalese had also reinforced their forces.

Human casualties were in the thousands, including ECOMOG’s.
Five American Catholic nuns assigned with the Catholic Church in Liberia were brutally murdered allegedly by Christopher Vambo and others.
John T. Richardson, code named “General Octopus” was the mastermind behind in the planning and execution of “Operation Octopus”, assisted by General John Teah, NPFL Commanding General, according to eyewitnesses.

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All Liberia Party Standard Bearer Benoni Urey speaking to media executives at his residence in Careysburg.

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