WASHINGTON: Four U.S. service members were injured today when their aircraft came under ground fire in South Sudan during a mission to evacuate American citizens in Bor, according to a statement issued by U.S. Africa Command.
The updated Africom statement reads as follows:
“At the request of the Department of State, the United States Africa Command, utilizing forces from Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), attempted to evacuate U.S. citizens from the town of Bor, South Sudan, today.
“As the aircraft, three CV-22 Ospreys, were approaching the town they were fired on by small-arms fire by unknown forces. All three aircraft sustained damage during the engagement. Four service members onboard the aircraft were wounded during the engagement.
“The damaged aircraft diverted to Entebbe, Uganda, where the wounded were transferred onboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 and flown to Nairobi, Kenya, for medical treatment.
“All four service members were treated and are in stable condition.”
In Hawaii, President Barack Obama was updated on the status of the injured U.S. service members, according to a White House news release issued today. Obama directed his national security team to ensure the safety of U.S. military personnel in the region and to continue to work with the United Nations to evacuate American citizens from Bor.
This morning, following a meeting of his national security principals that was led by National Security Advisor Susan Rice, Obama participated in a secure call with Rice, Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken, Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes, and Senior Director for African Affairs Grant Harris to update him on the situation in South Sudan, according to the White House release. The president, the release said, was briefed on the status of U.S. military personnel and the safety of U.S. citizens in Bor and U.S. personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Juba, South Sudan.
The president was pleased that the injured U.S. service members are in stable condition and he reaffirmed the importance of continuing to work with the United Nations to secure U.S. citizens in Bor, according to the White House release.
Obama underscored that South Sudan’s leaders have a responsibility to support U.S. efforts to secure its personnel and citizens in Juba and Bor, the release said.
More broadly, Obama underscored the urgency of helping to support efforts to resolve the differences within South Sudan through dialogue, according to the White House release. South Sudan’s leaders, the president said in the release, must know that continued violence will endanger the people of South Sudan and the hard-earned progress of independence. This conflict can only be resolved peacefully through negotiations. Any effort to seize power through the use of military force, the release said, will result in the end of longstanding support from the United States and the international community.
Obama expressed his deep appreciation for the work of U.S. military members and civilians who are operating in difficult circumstances in South Sudan and directed his team to continue to update him going forward, the White House release said.
South Sudan is currently experiencing turmoil that’s pitting the government against armed rebel groups. Secretary of State John F. Kerry said in a statement issued yesterday that it’s time “for South Sudan’s leaders to rein-in armed groups under their control, immediately cease attacks on civilians, and end the chain of retributive violence between different ethnic and political groups. The violence must stop, the dialogue must intensify.”
To help facilitate that effort, Kerry added, U.S. Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, Ambassador Donald E. Booth, has been dispatched to the region.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is keeping a close watch on the situation in South Sudan and is reviewing options, Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Adm. John Kirby said. Whatever action the Pentagon takes, it will be conducted in coordination with the State Department, Kirby added.
The United States recognized South Sudan as a sovereign, independent state on July 9, 2011 following its secession from Sudan, according to the U.S. State Department’s website. The United States played a key role in helping create the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that laid the groundwork for the 2011 independence referendum and secession.
Several disputes between Sudan and South Sudan remain unresolved post-independence, including the management of oil resources and the status of the Abyei region, according to the State Department website. The United States supports the efforts of the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel to help the parties work through these issues.
On Dec. 18, about 45 U.S. service members deployed to South Sudan to support the security of U.S. personnel and the U.S. Embassy, according to a Dec. 19 letter President Obama wrote to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate.
The text of the president’s letter reads as follows:
“On December 18, 2013, approximately 45 U.S. Armed Forces personnel deployed to South Sudan to support the security of U.S. personnel and our Embassy. Although equipped for combat, this force was deployed for the purpose of protecting U.S. citizens and property. This force will remain in South Sudan until the security situation becomes such that it is no longer needed.
“This action has been directed consistent with my responsibility to protect U.S. citizens both at home and abroad, and in furtherance of U.S. national security and foreign policy interests, pursuant to my constitutional authority to conduct U.S. foreign relations and as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive.
“I am providing this report as part of my efforts to keep the Congress fully informed, consistent with the War Powers Resolution (Public Law 93-148). I appreciate the support of the Congress in these actions.”
In recent years, South Sudan “has made great progress toward breaking the cycle of violence that characterized much of its history,” Obama said in a separate statement issued Dec. 19.
Today, however, South Sudan’s “future is at risk,” Obama added. South Sudan, he said, now “stands at the precipice,” with recent fighting there threatening to plunge the country “back into the dark days of its past.”
Obama continued: “But it doesn’t have to be that way. South Sudan has a choice. Its leaders can end the violence and work to resolve tensions peacefully and democratically. Fighting to settle political scores or to destabilize the government must stop immediately. Inflammatory rhetoric and targeted violence must cease. All sides must listen to the wise counsel of their neighbors, commit to dialogue and take immediate steps to urge calm and support reconciliation.”
South Sudan’s leaders must “recognize that compromise with one’s political enemy is difficult, but recovering from unchecked violence and unleashed hatred will prove much harder,” the president said.
“Too much blood has been spilled and too many lives have been lost to allow South Sudan’s moment of hope and opportunity to slip from its grasp,” Obama said. “Now is the time for South Sudan’s leaders to show courage and leadership, to reaffirm their commitment to peace, to unity, and to a better future for their people. The United States will remain a steady partner of the South Sudanese people as they seek the security and prosperity they deserve.”
South Sudan is located on the eastern border of the Central African Republic. The United States established diplomatic relations with the Central African Republic in 1960, following its independence from France, according to Africom’s website. The C.A.R. is one of the world’s least developed nations, and has experienced several periods of political instability since independence.
The United States is deeply concerned about “the shocking and horrific atrocities that have been committed by government-affiliated armed groups and independent militias against innocent civilians in the Central African Republic” in recent weeks, a Pentagon spokesman told reporters Dec. 11.
In an audio message released Dec. 9, Obama called on the transitional C.A.R. government to arrest those who are committing crimes.
“Individuals who are engaging in violence must be held accountable — in accordance with the law. Meanwhile, as forces from other African countries and France work to restore security, the United States will support their efforts to protect civilians,” Obama said.
On Dec. 10, the president authorized the State Department to use up to $60 million in defense services and articles for countries that contribute forces to the African Union-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic. The assistance could include logistical support — including strategic airlift and aerial refueling — and training for French and African forces deploying to the Central African Republic.