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.

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