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:
“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.”
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.