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.
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.
The 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.
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.