There have been three U.S. Aircraft attacked by gunfire while attempting to evacuate American citizens from the town of Bor, capital of South Sudan. South Sudan’s official military has engaged in battle with renegade troops for almost the week. Just the day before, four U.S. servicemen were wounded in an attack near where rebel gunfire had caused a U.N. helicopter to crash. The four wounded American troops who were on board the aircraft are in stable condition.
The U.S. Aircraft attacked – three CV-22 Ospreys – were close to landing when they were fired upon. Bor has been the scene of intense violence during the past week. Fighting has left the bodies of dead civilians laying all over the town. The U.S. Aircraft had been brought in to evacuate Americans, but how many American civilians still alive in Bor is currently unknown.
Approaching the projected landing site, the Ospreys were shot at by ground-based firearms from unknown forces. The pilots immediately aborted, swinging away to an airfield across the border in Entebbe, Uganda. From Uganda, the wounded troops were taken by a U.S. Air Force C-17 to Nairobi, Kenya, to receive further medical care.
The Americans had not told Gen. Peter Gadet, the top military officer in Bor, that they were due to arrive. That miscommunication may have led to the attack; Gadet had just defected from the South Sudan military in the days prior to the U.S. Aircraft attack.
Col. Philip Aguer, military spokesman for South Sudan, has explained that official troops no longer control Bor. Aguer insists that ousted vice president Riek Machar commands the armed forces currently in control of Bor. Therefore, they blame the a U.S. Aircraft attack on the South Sudanese renegades.
In Juba, the U.S. Embassy has evacuated some 450 Americans this week, along with other foreign nationals who were in Juba at the time. They intended to evacuate Bor in the same manner.
Four U.N. Helicopters had been dispatched to pick up 40 U.N. peacekeepers from the base in Yuai, Jonglei, on Friday. One of the U.N. helicopters received fire and made an emergency landing in Upper Nile state. No casualties were reported for that attack.
Michael Makuei Lueth, the information minister for South Sudan, reports that South Sudanese soldiers, assisted by the their air force, are attempting to retake the state capital of Bors, which they lost to rebels only this week. The rebels are attacking civilians and showing no respect for U.N. authority. Shooting began early Saturday morning, with reports that rebels were firing on civilians. The death toll is currently unknown, but estimated to be in the hundreds.
Salva Kiir, who is of Dinka ethnicity and President of South Sudan, thwarted an attempted coup which purportedly triggered the violence. Kiir blames the coup on former Vice-President Machar, who is of Nuer ethnicity. It has been rumored that Dinka and Nuer fueling racial hatred within the presidential troops was the actual catalyst of the violence. Machar’s removal from the vice presidency a few months ago only inflamed ethnic divisions.
Many fear that a stand-up civil war could explode from South Sudan. Violence there this week has already killed hundreds. Before a 2005 ceasefire was called, the south had engaged in a protracted war with Sudan. The peace grew into a 2011 referendum, which allowed South Sudan to establish independence from the north. South Sudan assumed control of the lion’s share of the area’s oil wealth in the bargain.
Machar’s whereabouts have yet to be ascertained, but rebel forces in Bor say they are fighting under his command. He is most likely hiding somewhere in South Sudan and so was not responsible for the U.S. Aircraft attack.
Rebels have assumed control of some of South Sudan’s oil fields; that might bring Sudan into the thick of things. South Sudan’s oil uses Sudan’s pipelines, a primary source of income for Khartoum.
Kenyan troops have been sent to evacuate the 1,600 Kenyans still remaining in South Sudan. Earlier this week, America, Britain, Germany and Italy sent military protection to the U.S. Embassy in Juba, helping organize evacuations by plane to remove innocent civilians from the line of fire.
The newest nation in the world is in danger of loosing America’s economic and political support. A violent civil war in South Sudan, particularly one in with U.S. Aircraft attacked, would cause a complete withdrawal of any American presence. Secretary of State John Kerry called Kiir personally. He exhorted the South Sudanese President to quickly end any ethnic issues and protect the U.S. and world citizens leaving the country.
Kiir has already agreed to “unconditional dialogue” to end further bloodshed. East Africa Mediators are trying to negotiate a peace agreement. It is assumed that the last thing South Sudan wants, is to have U.S. Aircraft attacked over their skies.
By Ben Gaul