Obama is considering taking additional steps to protect U.S. citizens, personnel, and property in South Sudan.
The president, who is in Hawaii for his annual vacation, was updated today on the situation in South Sudan, according to a White House official.
The aircraft and U.S. service members that were fired on yesterday in South Sudan were on a mission “to protect U.S. citizens, personnel and property,” Obama wrote in a letter dated today that was forwarded to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate.
“As I monitor the situation in South Sudan, I may take further action to support the security of U.S. citizens, personnel, and property, including our Embassy, in South Sudan,” the president added.
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 yesterday in a statement.
Whatever action the Pentagon takes, it will be conducted in coordination with the U.S. State Department, Kirby added.
The State Department has just released the following statement:
This morning, the United States — in coordination with the United Nations and in consultation with the South Sudanese government — safely evacuated American citizens from Bor, South Sudan. U.S. citizens and citizens from our partner nations were flown from Bor to Juba on UN and U.S. civilian helicopters. The United States and the United Nations, which has the lead for securing Bor airport in South Sudan, took steps to ensure fighting factions were aware these flights were a humanitarian mission.
The U.S. government is doing everything possible to ensure the safety and security of United States citizens in South Sudan. We are working with our allies around the world to connect with and evacuate U.S. citizens as quickly and safely as possible. For their safety and security, we will not outline specific evacuation plans.
So far, we have evacuated approximately 380 U.S. officials and private citizens and approximately 300 citizens of other countries to Nairobi and other locations outside South Sudan on four chartered flights and five military aircraft. Other U.S. citizens may have left through other means.
We strongly recommend U.S. citizens in South Sudan depart immediately, and we encourage those who remain to keep in touch with the Embassy and update their locations and status by contacting us email@example.com.
The BBC reports that the aircraft that were shot at were three CV-22 Ospreys and that the aircraft returned to Uganda’s Entebbe airport, from where the wounded service personnel were transferred onto a US Air Force C-17 transport aircraft and taken on to Nairobi, Kenya and that all four troops were treated and are in a stable condition.
It is always tragic news when our troops are killed or injured in the line of duty — but it is especially sad around the holidays.
The American Forces Press Service (AFPS) reports this morning that “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.”
A statement issued by the U.S. Africa Command says in part:
“We can confirm that four U.S. service members were injured today from gunfire directed at their aircraft in South Sudan.
“The aircraft was participating in a mission to evacuate American citizens in Bor.
“After receiving fire from the ground while approaching the site, the aircraft diverted to an airfield outside the country and aborted the mission.
“The injured troops are being treated for their wounds.”
AFPS further reports that the United States recognized South Sudan as a sovereign, independent state on July 9, 2011 following its secession from Sudan, and played a key role in helping create the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that laid the groundwork for the 2011 independence referendum and secession.
The AFPS report continues:
On Dec. 9, President Obama called on the transitional C.A.R. [Central Africa Republic] 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.
On Dec. 19, President Obama wrote to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate:
“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.”
According to the AFPS, in a separate statement on Dec 19, the President said that in recent years, South Sudan “has made great progress toward breaking the cycle of violence that characterized much of its history.” 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.”
Lead photo CV-22 Osprey: DOD