U.S. soldiers arrive at the airport in Juba, South Sudan. (Army)
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WASHINGTON — In the midst of worsening violence in the South Sudan, the Obama administration informed Congress Thursday evening that it deployed soldiers from the U.S. Army’s East Africa Response Force to the capital of Juba to help evacuate American citizens and ensure the safety of embassy personnel there.
The 45 combat-ready soldiers are part of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division based in Fort Riley, Kansas, but who are on a year-long deployment in the Army’s Regionally Aligned Forces program, which marries brigade combat teams with combatant commands around the world to thicken their ranks.
The AFRICOM command is the first to receive a brigade, and soldiers began deploying in April of this year. The soldiers who comprise the East Africa Response Force are based at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti.
Given the worsening fighting in South Sudan—which broke off from Sudan after years of bloody fighting in 2011 — the State Department declared that all non-essential staffers would be flown out of the country on U.S. C-130 aircraft. The U.S. soldiers deployed there are overseeing their orderly evacuation, while protecting staff still at the embassy in Juba.
In the letter to the Speaker of the House and the President Pro tempore of the Senate on Dec. 19, President Obama said that the soldiers are “equipped for combat,” but that “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.”
In keeping with the War Powers resolution, the president wrote that “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.”
The announcement came on the same day the White House announced it was sending $101 million to assist the African Union and French troops attempt to instill order in the Central African Republic, which has been wracked by fighting between Muslim and Christian groups.
That $101 million includes providing three C-17 aircraft to ferry Burundian troops to the Central African Republic, as well as non-lethal supplies like trucks, ambulances, and shelters.
On Dec. 10, the White House gave the Secretary of State the power to draw up to $60 million in defense equipment for France, the African Union, Republic of Congo, Chad, Cameroon, Gabon, Burundi, Uganda, Rwanda, and other countries who currently make up the African Union’s peacekeeping effort in the Central African Republic.
But so far “the only DoD stocks drawn down have been C-17 flights to move Burundian troops into Bangui. We expect to move 850 Burundian troops into Bangui by Friday, Dec. 20” said Pentagon spokesman Air Force Maj. Rob Firman.
U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power and other American officials flew to the Central African Republic this week to speak with leaders there to try and find a way to end the fighting, which has already drawn in about 6,000 African Union and 1,600 French peacekeepers.
The U.S. troops arrived in Juba just before the key town of Bor fell to anti-government rebels on Thursday evening, and while fighting was breaking out between militias near the airport there. It is being estimated at more than 400 people have been killed in South Sudan this week.
Reports coming out of the oil-rich nation say that there is fighting happening in six of the country's 10 states, and three Indian peacekeepers were killed earlier this week when a UN compound was overrun by a group of armed men.