South Sudan Rebels opened fire on U.S. aircraft Saturday, injuring four soldiers and diverting evacuation attempts to local air fields. This is a marked increase in local violence that had been simmering since 2011 when South Sudan declared independence and split from Sudan. Years of civil war led to the split, but past conflicts have returned to re-ignite simmering tensions. The current president of South Sudan, Mr. Kirr is a member of the Dinka ethnic group, which is the majority in the country. Mr. Machar is the former Vice President fired along with the entire cabinet in July. Mr. Kirr has accused Mr. Machar of attempting a coup, but Mr. Machar denies any such actions.
Because the President and former Vice President belong to different ethnic groups, both political and tribal reasons are cited for the intense violence. Despite this, many say it is plainly a power struggle where ethnicity is an after thought at best, an excuse at worst. The South Sudan rebels that opened fire on U.S. Osprey jets and a helicopter filled with UN refugees, injuring four U.S. soldiers and disrupting the flight, are under the command of former Vice President Machar. All of the aircraft were forced to divert their course and land in an air field outside of the country. The attack comes on the heels of an announcement by the South Sudanese government saying that they lost control of the capital city of Jonglei earlier this week and are fighting to reclaim it from the rebels. The fighting is believed to have been initially started by Mr. Kirr firing the cabinet of his government under the seemingly false pretense that Mr. Machar was to attempt a coup. This came soon after accusations that Mr. Kirr was overseeing a corrupt and morally bankrupt government. Although he has the majority of the population behind him and is still technically in power, it is obvious that the South Sudan rebels under Mr. Machars control are numerous and willing to kill for change.
The Rebels have attacked and seized control of several oil fields in the state of Unity, killing workers and disrupting supplies to major cities in East Africa around Sudans borders such as Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia. This is expected to have dire effects on the already fractured nations. There have been severe shortages of food and water, with medical aid being practically nonexistent. Thousands have fled to surrounding nations or simply into the arid wilderness in between.
Amid calls for increased international involvement from several human rights groups and Sudanese political parties such as the United Nations and the Enough Project, President Obama has spoken to urge the forces of Mr. Kirr and Mr. Machar to come to terms peacefully. If this cannot be accomplished, President Obama threatened to cease all American aid in the area, although it seems that it will take more than South Sudan rebels opening fire on U.S. aircraft to get a military response. At this point the combination of intense ethnic rivalries and the momentum the South Sudan rebels have behind their current military operations, it seems unlikely that anything other than the elimination of one side will result in a lasting peace in the war-torn country.
By Daniel O’Brien