The United States military in Africa has deployed 47 troops described by President Barack Obama as “equipped for combat” to protect American personnel and facilities in Juba, the capital of civil-war-ravaged South Sudan, the White House and U.S. Africa Command have announced.
“Simply put, U.S. forces are on the ground in South Sudan to temporarily augment security at the embassy and to assist in the directed, ordered departure of nonessential embassy personnel,” declared Cpt. Jennifer Dyrcz, a spokeswoman for U.S. Africa Command, also known as AFRICOM.
Both pro-government and opposition troops in South Sudan have been advised of the U.S. deployment, which is “defensive in nature and for the sole purpose to protect U.S. personnel and facilities,” pointed out Dyrcz.
Obama noted in a July 13 letter addressed to Congress that an additional 130 U.S. troops are in reserve in neighboring Djibouti.
“The German air force has also deployed to assist in an international evacuation prompted by a recent wave of violence,” reports Stars and Stripes.
According to the Associated Press (AP), the U.S. deployment came at the request of the State Department, amid a fragile ceasefire that has held so far.
The civil war that erupted in December 2013 appears to have never stopped despite a peace deal reached in August 2015 between South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and his sacked Vice President Riek Machar.
As was the case at the beginning of the conflict, the warring parties are still South Sudan’s most prominent ethnic groups: the Dinka, led by President Kiir, and the Nuer, under Vice-President Machar.
The United States and other countries are making plans to evacuate their citizens.
“The U.S. Embassy in Juba said flights will be organized for all U.S. citizens wishing to leave South Sudan,” reports AP. “The embassy is also evacuating non-essential staff.”
In the letter, Obama said U.S. forces will remain in the country “until the security situation becomes such that their presence is no longer needed.”
AFRICOM has reportedly been concerned by the unrest in South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, which the Obama administration helped midwife. It gained independence from Sudan in 2011.
Stars and Stripes reports:
After South Sudan gained independence, tensions continued with its neighbor to the north, but armed militia groups and tribal conflict within its own borders also posed a security risk.
AFRICOM chief Gen. David Rodriguez, in a May interview, said South Sudan was on the brink and could be Africa’s next Mali — a country that faced sudden near collapse a few years ago after government coup and threats from Islamic militants.