United States President Barack Obama said the country would deploy up to 200 U.S. troops fully armed with combat equipment to South Sudan to protect U.S. citizens and the embassy in Juba.
In a notice to the Congress, Obama said the contingent will include the 47 announced earlier, and 130 officers currently stationed in Djibouti. He said will be initially stationed in neighboring Uganda.
“It is not possible to know at this time the precise scope or the duration of the deployments of U.S. Armed Forces necessary to support the security of U.S. citizens and property in South Sudan,” Obama said in his letter to Congress.
The notice follows the U.S. State Department condemnation of actions by South Sudan’s government to prevent civilians from leaving the country after recent fighting.
The department also raised concerns about the beating and detention of some politicians especially from the opposition SPLA-IO. On Thursday June 14, 2016, a senior official and SPLM-IO secretary general of the oppositin SPLM-IO Dhieu Mathok, was attacked and beaten in a hotel in Juba by forces loyal to President Salva Kiir.
State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said the situation in the capital Juba remained “fluid” but the United States still believed it was possible the country’s longtime political adversaries could come together to restore order.
Forces loyal to South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar engaged in five days of street battles with anti-aircraft guns, attack helicopters and tanks until a ceasefire was reached on Monday.
The fighting prompted the United Nations and some countries to withdraw non-essential personnel. The United States sent 47 additional troops to protect U.S. citizens and the U.S. Embassy.
“We continue to press the leaders of South Sudan to end the fighting,” Trudeau told reporters. “We call on all parties to allow civilian freedom of movement and provide unfettered humanitarian access to all people in need.”
“Destruction and damage to humanitarian facilities and violence against aid workers is unacceptable and must stop immediately,” she added.
Trudeau said the United States “condemned all actions by the government” to prevent civilians from boarding flights out of South Sudan or leaving the country by other means.
“It is unacceptable given the conditions in Juba to prevent civilians from freely departing the country,” she said.
She also said the United States was concerned about the beating and temporary detention on Thursday of officials in the transitional government belonging to the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition, or SPLM-IO.
Kiir and Machar are longtime rivals, jostling for power even before South Sudan’s independence from Sudan in 2011. A civil war that began in December 2013 came a few months after Kiir dismissed Machar as his deputy. They signed a peace deal in August 2015, but implementation has been slow.
The flare-up last week was apparently sparked when Kiir’s forces stopped and demanded to search vehicles with Machar’s troops.
Trudeau said the U.S. ambassador and emergency personnel remained in South Sudan, “engaging diplomatically with leaders … and supporting U.S. citizens in the country.” U.S. aid personnel also remained to assess the humanitarian impact of the fighting.