An attack on Liberian government forces in Nimba County, Liberia, on Christmas Eve, 1989, ignited a full-scale civil war. It was carried out by the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) and consisted of Libyan-trained dissidents, headed by Charles Taylor, a former employee of President Samuel Doe's government. After six months of fighting, the NPFL controlled 90 percent of Liberia and was ready to launch a final assault on the capital, Monrovia. Eight months from the start of the war, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) sent a Nigerian-led peace-keeping force, ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) to put an end to the civil war. ECOWAS' military intervention failed to stop the war or to bring peace. Almost half of the Liberian population of two-and-a-half million was displaced, hundreds of thousands were killed or wounded, the economic and administrative infrastructures were destroyed, and law and order ceased to exist.
After more than a year of fighting in Liberia, the war spilled over into neighboring Sierra Leone. A force headed by Foday Saybana Sankoh, consisting of Sierra Leone dissidents of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), launched a military attack backed by NPFL units. After gaining control over the resource-rich area of Kailahun, the RUF fought its way to the capital, Freetown. The war in Sierra Leone appeared to follow the Liberian experience: with many casualties, displacement of population, destruction of economic and administrative structures and anarchy replacing the rule of law and order.