Washington, DC, United States (4E) – The U.S. suspended evacuation flights in South Sudan on Saturday after three of its military helicopters about to airlift American citizens in Bor were fired on wounding four troops aboard.
The Pentagon said the tilt-rotor CV-22 Ospreys aborted the flights in the capital of Jonglei state after being hit by gunfire and landed in Entebbe, Uganda. From there, a U.S. Air Force C-17 transferred the wounded troops to Nairobi, Kenya for treatment. The wounded soldiers were out of danger, according to Jonathan Dahm, a spokesman for the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) in Stuttgart, Germany.
The Ospreys carrying forces from Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa were deployed to the town of Bor at the request of the State Department, said Army Col. Thomas Davis, a spokesman for the AFRICOM. The task force came from Camp Lemonier in Djibouti, the U.S. military’s only official and permanent base in Africa.
Fighting between soldiers and rebels in Bor have left bodies in the streets and forced civilians to flee, said Toby Lanzer, a senior U.N. official in the capital, Juba, in a tweet Saturday. Lanzer said more than 15,000 people have sought refuge at the U.N. base in Bor, including Americans, British, Canadians and other nationalities.
Thousands more civilians sought refuge in U.N. peacekeeping bases in Juba amid the fighting.
The U.S. embassy operations in Juba are already suspended and U.S. planes has so far evacuated 450 American diplomats and citizens plus other nationalities from the capital.
Meanwhile, 45 members of the East Africa Response Force (EARF)—a joint team based at Camp Lemonnier—are deployed to Juba to secure the U.S. embassy and its remaining staff. The EARF was formed in response to the terrorist attack of the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya in September 2012.
The attack on the Ospreys came a day after a United Nations helicopter was fired upon in the town of Yuai town, also in Jonglei state. The helicopter, which was on a mission to evacuate 40 peacekeepers from the town, was forced to make an emergency landing. No one was injured in the attack and the helicopter later flew to the U.N. compound in the Upper Nile state capital of Malakal.
It is not clear if who is in control of Bor. Army defectors claimed taking over Bor but the Sudanese Army said Saturday it has regained control of the town, according to Sudan Tribune.