US C-17s to Africa in Peacekeeping Bid

The U.S. has joined with Britain to assist in the movement of equipment and peacekeepers responding to sectarian violence in the Central African Republic.

Within the next 24 hours, U.S. Africa Command will begin transporting about 850 Burundian troops into the region aboard U.S. C-17s while the RAF continues to move supplies in to support French troops on the ground.

More than 400 people died in the country’s capital of Bangui last week during fighting between armed Christians opposing Muslim forces now running the country, according to The Associated Press.

The French already have more than 1,600 soldiers in the Central African Republic (CAR), according to Reuters, and the African Union has pledged 6,000 peacekeeping troops. The Burundian forces to be transported by the U.S. are part of that element.

CAR, along with Gabon and the Republic of Congo, had once been a French colony. France has sought to maintain ties with its former African colonies and in March sent troops in Mali to help root out al Qaeda-linked terrorist groups in that country. The U.S. provided airlift for the French effort.

The alliance of rebel groups known as Seleka that seized power in March later crumbled, but rebel leader Michel Djotodia claims to be president.

Only last month, according to Human Rights Watch, ex-rebels who had been integrated into the country’s armed forces pillaged and burned a small Christian town.

France's Defense Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, told French media that fighters loyal to Djotodia must return to barracks and the rest would have to surrender their weapons.

"First we'll ask gently and if they don't react, we'll do it by force,” Le Drian said. “The operation will take some time."

In Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sunday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke by phone with Le Drian, who “requested limited assistance from the United States military to support this international effort” sanctioned by the United Nations in the CAR, Assistant Defense Press Secretary Carl Woog said on Monday.

"In response to this request, Secretary Hagel has directed U.S. AFRICOM to begin transporting forces from Burundi to the Central African Republic, in coordination with France,” Woog said.

The U.S. was “joining the international community in this effort because of our belief that immediate action is required to avert a humanitarian and human rights catastrophe,” Woog said.

The U.S. effort will likely involve the temporary stationing of a small contingent of U.S. troops on the ground in Bangui to direct air traffic and supervise the unloading of planes. A small U.S. force was also on the ground in a similar effort to aid the French in Mali.

The U.S. will begin flying two C-17 Globemaster IIIs between Burundi and CAR “in the next 24 hour or so,” Pentagon spokesman Maj. Robert Firman told on Monday. “We expect [the mission] to last for just a few days.”

The RAF, which already helped fly in supplies for the French, is again sending two C-17s into the country with equipment.

UK Defense Secretary Philip Hammond, in a message to the foreign ministry, said the security situation in CAR was deteriorating and threatening a major humanitarian crisis throughout the country, according to British Forces News.

As with the U.S. role, Britain is contributing airlift assets but has no plans to put boots on the ground.

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