Monthly Archives: December 2013

Concerns Over “White Army” in South Sudan as East African Leaders Push for Ceasefire

Last Friday, East African leaders of the nations of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) bloc met in Nairobi, Kenya to discuss the ongoing crisis in South Sudan, where inter-communal violence has erupted following the reported suppression of a coup attempt.  South Sudanese President Salva Kiir was among the heads of state who attended the meeting.  A joint communique was subsequently issued condemning the violence and calling for a peaceful and mediated solution.  Point number seven of the communique specifically said:

“Condemns all unconstitutional actions to challenge the constitutional order, democracy and the rule of law and in particularly condemns changing the democratic government of the Republic of South Sudan through use of force”

Following the meeting, the South Sudanese government pledged to cease hostilities against rebels, but no formal ceasefire resulted from the pledge.  Ethnic Nuer rebels, who accuse the Dinka ethnic group of dominating the government of the world’s newest country, were reasonably wary of the government’s pledge in the absence of a formal agreement.  On Saturday, a Nuer tribal militia loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar called the “White Army” was reported to be preparing to attack the capital of Jonglei state, Bor, which had already become a hotspot of the violence in the country.  President Kiir accused Machar of being behind the coup attempt, and while Machar has repeated denied this, he has effectively sided with Nuer rebels.  The White Army, reportedly numbering some twenty-five thousand individuals, mostly Nuer youth, was then reported to have turned around from its march on Bor on Sunday.  Machar has also said he supports a ceasefire, but one that includes a verification component.

Map of South Sudan from the United Nations, dated October 2011.  The capital, Juba, as well as the cities of Akobo and Bor have been highlighted.

Map of South Sudan from the United Nations, dated October 2011. The capital, Juba, as well as the cities of Akobo and Bor have been highlighted.  Violence has also been reported in Unity and Upper Nile states.

However, the White Army remains a force to be contended with and is seen by many as an additional obstacle to a negotiated settlement.  Nuer militia have already been responsible for an attack on a facility in Akobo run by the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS), that resulted in the deaths of two Indian peacekeepers and twenty civilians fleeing the violence.  The UN estimates that over sixty-thousands civilians are currently sheltering at UNMISS facilities.  The UN recently approved the expansion of UNMISS and peacekeepers from African nations have begun to arrive in the country.  This includes a deployment of Ugandan peacekeepers today, along with a statement from Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, who was present at the IGAD summit, calling for Machar to agree immediately to a ceasefire or face the potential of regional action.  So far the United States has deployed forces to the country primarily to assist in the evacuation of US and other foreign nationals and to guard diplomatic facilities.

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Violence Continues in South Sudan and CAR

Violence has continued to escalate in South Sudan and Central Africa Republic, as crises in both countries continue despite international military interventions and other efforts.  Yesterday, in South Sudan, reports indicated that inter-communal fighting had spread into the country’s Upper Nile state, while in Central African Republic, French forces reinforced their positions in the capital Bangui with armored vehicles following heavy gunfire.

Map of South Sudan from the United Nations, dated October 2011.  The disputed Abyei region is shown shaded grey.

Map of South Sudan from the United Nations, dated October 2011.

In South Sudan, the United Nations believes that some ninety-thousand individuals to have been displaced, including almost sixty-thousand known to be sheltering at facilities operated by the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS).  Reports this week of mass killings and the discovery of a mass grave in the country indicate that the inter-communal violence between the Dinka and Nuer ethnic groups is rapidly escalating.  The UN and others have called for engagement and dialogue to solve the crisis, which erupted after a reported coup attempt, which the government blamed on former Vice President Riek Machar, a member of the Nuer ethnic group.  The violence in Upper Nile state follows significant incidents in Unity state, another oil rich province, and Jonglei.

The UN Security Council has responded to the crisis by authorizing UNMISS to almost double its size, adding some five-thousand five-hundred peacekeepers (both military and police personnel) to the existing force of some seven thousand personnel.  UNMISS has already suffered casualties in the violence after ethnic Nuer militiamen attacked a facility in Akobo in Jonglei state.  However, the UN noted that it would take some time for the new forces to arrive.  It is possible that the US could assist in rapidly deploying peacekeepers, as it has done in the past.

spmagtf-cr-logoThe situation in South Sudan has already provided an opportunity for the US military to showcase its current crisis response capabilities.  Soon after the violence started, the US deployed elements of the East Africa Response Force, based at Camp Lemonnier Djibouti, to protect US diplomatic facilities and assist in evacuating civilians.  The US has now deployed elements of the Marine Corps’ Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Crisis Response, based at Moron Air Base in Spain, to Camp Lemonnier and to Entebbe, Uganda.  In addition, last week, three Air Force Special Operations Command CV-22B Ospreys were damaged and four US servicemen injured during an attempt to rescue US and other nationals for Bor, the capital of Jonglei state.  The aircraft had been launched from Camp Lemonnier and were diverted to Entebbe after the mission was aborted.  It has since been reported that the rescue force included US Navy SEALs, suggesting that the aircraft and personnel for that mission might have come from Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa’s (CJTF-HOA) Special Operations Command and Control Element – Horn of Africa (SOCCE-HOA).  SOCCE-HOA is responsible for special operations in east Africa in support of CJTF-HOA’s mission, which includes regional crisis response.  SOCCE-HOA is in fact an outgrowth of a crisis response element (sometimes referred to as CRE-HOA) that was established at Camp Lemonnier in Spring 2002 as part of the initial buildup there following the events of September 11th, 2001.  SOCCE-HOA is also the primary force provider for Operation Observant Compass, the US mission to support regional forces in their fight against the Lord’s Resistance Army.

Map of Central African Republic

Map of Central African Republic

In neighboring CAR, violence has also continued despite an influx of African peacekeepers to the African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA) and the French intervention, Operation Sangaris.  Violence there has become a matter of largely a matter of fighting between mainly Muslim former Seleka rebels and Christian militias referred to as anti-balaka.  Though anti-balaka groups initially welcomed international intervention, some have since become dissatisfied with their unwillingness to oust current President Michel Djotodia, the former leader of the Seleka rebel group, who deposed former President Francois Bozize in March.  Christian groups have also accused Muslim peacekeepers from Chad of siding with ex-Seleka rebels, leading to violent clashes.  Christian protesters blame Chadian forces for at least one death.  Anti-balaka militiamen reportedly killed a peacekeeper from the Republic of Congo on Tuesday, possibly in retribution.  French forces, however, are seen as having sided with the anti-balaka militias, leading to violence between them and ex-Seleka rebels.  Both ex-Seleka rebels and anti-balaka militia continue present a significant challenge to international forces and despite efforts to disarm both groups and seek a negotiated settlement.

Push for Talks in South Sudan

The African Union today called on the parties in South Sudan to cease fighting and engage in talks to prevent an all out civil war in the country.  The United States also said a political solution may be a possibility.  South Sudan has seen an explosion of inter-communal violence since the government reportedly defeated an attempted coup at the beginning of last week.  Members of the majority Dinka and Nuer ethnic groups have since engaged in open conflict against each other and against international forces in the country.  Anti-government Nuer rebels have since claimed total control over the oil-rich Unity state and Bor, the capital of Jonglei state.  South Sudanese government troops are reportedly massing for an assault to reclaim Bor.

A map released by the European Commission of the crisis in South Sudan as of December 20th, 2013

A map released by the European Commission of the crisis in South Sudan as of December 20th, 2013

The fighting, which along with what has been happening in neighboring Central African Republic, has led to fears of a repeat of the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, has exposed major issues in the world’s youngest nation.  President Salva Kiir, a member of the Dinka ethnic group blamed Riek Machar, a one-time partner in the fight against the Sudanese government and former Vice President.  Machar, a member of the Nuer ethnic group, denied any involvement, saying that President Kiir was seeking to inflame ethnic tension.  Machar has, however, expressed tacit support for the Nuer rebellion.  In addition to claiming control over Unity state and Bor, reported Nuer militiamen also attacked a facility operated by the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) last week, killing UN peacekeepers and civilians fleeing the violence.  US CV-22B Osprey aircraft attempting a rescue of US nationals in Bor last week were also fired upon, leading to the operation being scrapped and four US servicemen being wounded.

MV-22B Ospreys from  Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 365 at Moron Air Base, Spain, after having arrived to join Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force - Crisis Response.

MV-22B Ospreys from Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 365 at Moron Air Base, Spain, after having arrived to join Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Crisis Response earlier this year.

Despite the push for talks, the continuing violence has reportedly led the commander of US Africa Command (AFRICOM) to reposition forces within East Africa.  Most notably, this involved the movement of elements of the Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Crisis Response (SPMAGTF-CR) from Moron, Spain to Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti.  The mission into Bor last week was flown from Djibouti by members of the East Africa Response Force (EARF).  Both SPMAGTF-CR and the EARF are products of a review of crisis response capabilities that came after the attack on the US consulate and associated facilities in Benghazi, Libya in September 2012.  The aircraft flown to Bor were then diverted to Entebbe, Uganda, another hub for US operations in the region, after the mission was aborted.  The wounded servicemen were then flown to Nairobi, Kenya by C-17 for medical treatment.  It was also reported today that three of the four individuals would be medically evacuated to Landstuhl Army Hospital, in Germany.  The fourth would be moved as soon as his condition stabilized.  UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has also suggested reinforcing UNMISS, which currently has almost seven thousand personnel in South Sudan.

Quick Correction Regarding the East Africa Response Force

There had been a mistake regarding the makeup of the East African Response Force (EARF) when this had been discussed here on the 18th.  While news outlets had mentioned that 1st Battalion, 63d Armor Regiment from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division had deployed earlier in the year, it was in fact 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment that formed the core of the EARF when elements deployed to South Sudan.

U.S. Army Lt. Col. Robert Magee and U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Clinton Reiss uncase the 1st Combined Arms Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division battalion colors during a transfer of authority ceremony at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, Dec. 14, 2013.

U.S. Army Lt. Col. Robert Magee and U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Clinton Reiss uncase the 1st Combined Arms Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division battalion colors during a transfer of authority ceremony at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, Dec. 14, 2013.

In the spring, 1-63d Armor had deployed to Djibouti as part of the formation of the rotational EARF as the first battalion to deploy in support of the new mission.  2/1st Infantry is aligned with US Africa Command (AFRICOM) currently.  On December 14th, a ceremony was held to mark the relief in place transfer of authority between 1-63d Armor and 1-18th Infantry, which is also part of 2/1st Infantry.

A correction has also been appended to the original story here on Codebook: Africa.

US Citizens and Others Evacuated in Bor as US Mulls Increasing Forces in South Sudan

Today, United States Department of State Spokesperson Jen Psaki issued a press statement announcing that the US and other nationals had been successfully evacuated from Bor, South Sudan.  The evacuations by United Nations and civilian helicopters were said to have been coordinated with the UN and conducted in consultation with the government of the Republic of South Sudan.  According to the Department of State, a total of 380 US officials and private citizens, along with an additional 300 other foreign nationals have been evacuated so far from South Sudan with US assistance.  These individuals have been evacuated to Nairobi, Kenya and other countries on a total of four chartered flights and five sorties by US military aircraft.  According to the Department of State, other US citizens have also left the country by other means.  Other countries, such as the United Kingdom, have also been working to evacuate their nationals from the country.

Two UN Mi-8MTV1 helicopters at an unknown location, similar to those operated in South Sudan by the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (via Wikipedia)

Two Mi-8MTV1 helicopters operated by the UN at an unknown location, similar to those operated in South Sudan by the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (via Wikipedia)

The UN helicopters likely belonged to the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS), which has been in the country since before its declaration of independence in 2011.  The mention of “U.S. civilian helicopters” could be a reference to helicopters contracted by the US to provide dedicated rotary wing support in the region in support of efforts to counter the Lord’s Resistance Army, codenamed Operation Observant Compass.  Contracting announcements have indicated that at least since 2012 the US has paid private contractors to base a number of transport helicopters at Entebbe, Uganda.  Transportation Command is now responsible for this contract and has issued announcements looking to renew it this year.  The contracted aircraft were and were required to be able to provide support to US and regional forces at a number of forward operating locations, to include Nzara, South Sudan.  Entebbe has served a major hub for US aviation support for Observant Compass and the US has also operated fixed wing aircraft, such as the C-145A (an official US designation recently applied to the Polish M-28 Skytruck aircraft, which are operated by Air Force Special Operations Command), from Nzara in support of the counter-LRA mission.

This all comes a day after US Africa Command (AFRICOM) and the US Department of Defense announced that an attempt to evacuate US and other nationals from Bor using three CV-22B Osprey aircraft had been aborted after the aircraft took ground fire, resulting in four US servicemen being wounded and all three aircraft taking damage.  The AFSOC aircraft had been launched from Djibouti, where they were reported to have been assigned to Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) and were diverted to Entebbe.  The wounded servicemen were subsequently flown on a C-17 transport from there to Nairobi, Kenya for medical treatment.  No fatalities were reported.

In addition, today the White House released the text of a letter sent by President Barack Obama to the Speaker of the House of Representatives And the President Pro Tempore of the Senate.  In the letter, stated to be in keeping with the requirements of the War Powers Resolution, said that approximately 46 US military personnel had participated in the evacuation attempt.  It also noted that the President might take further action to “support the security of U.S. citizens, personnel, and property, including our Embassy, in South Sudan” as the situation develops.

A map released by the European Commission of the crisis in South Sudan as of December 20th, 2013

A map released by the European Commission of the crisis in South Sudan as of December 20th, 2013.

Violence has been erupted in the country following a reported coup attempt last week, with a UN official in the country being said to have described an “atmosphere of fear” as concerns about increased inter-communal violence grow.  UNMISS has been attempting to provide shelter for civilians fleeing the violence, but has come under attack of the threat of attack, notably in the towns of Akobo and Bor.  The UN has sought an end to the violence as it also relocates non-critical staff outside the country.

US Servicemen Wounded and Aircraft Damaged in Operations in South Sudan

United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) has updated a press release with additional information about an attempt to rescue US citizens from the South Sudanese town of Bor today:

Map of South Sudan from the United Nations, dated October 2011.  The capital, Juba, as well as the cities of Akobo and Bor have been highlighted.

Map of South Sudan from the United Nations, dated October 2011. The capital, Juba, as well as Akobo and Bor in Jonglei state have been highlighted.

“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.”

Two CV-22B Ospreys taxi to their new home on June 24, 2013, at RAF Mildenhall, England. The Ospreys, assigned to the 7th Special Operations Squadron, were the first of 10 slated to arrive as part of the expansion of the 352nd Special Operations Group.

Two CV-22B Ospreys taxi to their new home on June 24, 2013, at RAF Mildenhall, England. The Ospreys, assigned to the 7th Special Operations Squadron, were the first of 10 slated to arrive as part of the expansion of the 352nd Special Operations Group.

This new release provides important detail and context for the operation, which was subsequently aborted after the aircraft began taking damage and injuries were sustained.  Most notably, the aircraft in question were “CV-22 Ospreys,” an important distinction that identifies these aircraft as CV-22B Osprey’s that are operated only by US Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC).  CV-22Bs joined the 7th Special Operations Squadron in June, which is part of the 352nd Special Operations Group, headquartered in England, the AFSOC component of Special Operations Command, Europe.  The aircraft were deployed to fill a gap left by the retirement of the MH-53M Pave Low IV helicopter from AFSOC in 2008.  The CV-22B has a certain history with operations in Africa, with its first operational deployment in 2008 being in support of the annual Flintlock special operations exercise in Mali.  There had also reportedly been a request for the deployment of the aircraft to East Africa to support efforts to counter the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), codenamed Operation Observant Compass.  The release serves as a confirmation that the aircraft had been deployed to the region, though possibly only on a contingency basis in response to recent events.

Also of note is that the aircraft diverted to Entebbe, Uganda, a major hub for US operations in East Africa.  Entebbe has served as a launching site for intelligence aircraft, such as those flown as part of Operation Tusker Sand, as well as other air support for Operation Observant Compass.  As part of the efforts to help rapidly deploy peacekeepers in support of the African-led  International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA) in CAR, the US also reportedly established a command and control team there.

Violence continues in South Sudan, where a coup attempt reported on Monday has resulted in an explosion of inter-communal violence between the Dinka and Nuer ethnic groups.  President Salva Kiir, a member of the Dinka ethnic group, had blamed Riek Machar, a former Vice President and member of the Nuer ethnic group, of being behind the coup.  Machar denied being responsible, but has effectively gone into open rebellion against the government, which he says the Dinka have dominated.  Machar announced today that anti-government rebels were in control of oil-rich Unity state.  Yesterday, a UN facility in Akobo being operated by the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) was attacked by local Nuer militia, resulting in the deaths of twenty civilians and two Indian peacekeepers.  The US and other countries have been working to evacuate their nationals and others and the UN has been looking to safeguard tens of thousands of civilians fleeing the violence.  The US has also deployed troops from the East Africa Task Force in Djibouti indefinitely to protect diplomatic facilities.

Violence Continues in CAR and South Sudan

Yesterday, the United Nations reported that a facility in Akobo, South Sudan operated by the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) was attacked by unknown assailants.  Today, the UN confirmed that an estimated two thousand individuals, believed to be from the Lour Nuer ethnic group, attacked the facility where civilians from the Dinka ethnic group had been sheltering.  Some thirty-four thousand civilians are believed to be seeking shelter from the violence at UNMISS facilities in the country.  Twenty civilians and two Indian peacekeepers were killed in the attack.  The UN condemned the attack.  United States President Obama also described the situation in the country yesterday by saying that “South Sudan stands at the precipice.”  The US has deployed troops from the East Africa Task Force to bolster security at diplomatic facilities in the country and has already been working to evacuate foreign nationals, as have other nations.

Soldiers of the East Africa Response Force, a Djibouti-based joint task force, prepare to support evacuation operations in Juba, South Sudan on December 18th, 2013.

Soldiers of the East Africa Response Force, a Djibouti-based joint task force, prepare to support evacuation operations in Juba, South Sudan on December 18th, 2013.

The attack is among the more serious incidents following a surge of inter-communal violence that followed the announcement on December 16th that the government had defeated a coup.  President Salva Kiir, a member of the Dinka ethnic group, subsequently blamed former Vice President Riek Machar, a member of the Nuer ethnic group, as being behind the coup.  On again-off again partners in the rebel campaign against the Sudanese government, Kiir and Machar subsequently had a falling out over allegations of Dinka domination of the now independent country’s political and other institutions.  Machar has continued to deny involvement in any coup attempt and suggested that Kiir is attempting to turn him into a scapegoat to distract from various issues the country is experiencing.  Today, Machar suggested, however, that rebellion was afoot and that the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), the national army of the country, had become “fed up” with President Kiir.

The UN also warned today the continued violence in Central African Republic threatens to create a humanitarian crisis in the country.  Thousands have been reported killed and an estimated seven hundred and fifty thousand people are believed to have been displaced in inter-communal fighting between nominally Muslim and Christian militias.

Burundi soldiers gather their gear at the Bangui Airport, Central Africa Republic on December 13th, 2013, after having arrived in a US Air Force C-17 Globemaster III transport.

Burundi soldiers gather their gear at the Bangui Airport, Central Africa Republic on December 13th, 2013, after having arrived in a US Air Force C-17 Globemaster III transport.

The violence spiked at the beginning of the month after attacks in the capital Bangui by forces reportedly loyal to former President Francois Bozize.  Bozize was ousted by current President Michel Djotodia in March after Djotodia’s Seleka rebel movement marched on the capital.  Djotodia subsequently ordered the Seleka movement disbanded, but former rebels continued to operate in various areas, including much of the capital’s suburbs and the security situation rapidly deteriorated.  So called anti-balaka militias were formed in various communities to defend against the activities of the ex-Seleka rebels and violence steadily increased, leading to a French intervention, Operation Sangaris, and the expansion of the African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA) in the country.

The African Union’s MISCA peacekeeping operation formally took over from the previous AU mission, Peace and Consolidation Mission in the Central African Republic (MICOPAX), today.  MISCA and the French operation are currently operating with a UN mandate.   The US had been working to support MISCA by helping to rapidly deploy African peacekeepers from Burundi.  Today, the US completed this operation, which involved the deployment of a full Burundian light infantry battalion and associated equipment to CAR.  French President Francois Hollande has also said that the European Union is considering launching a peacekeeping effort in the country next month.