By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 3, 2014 - Marines evacuated about 20 U.S. Embassy staff members from the deteriorating security situation in Juba, South Sudan, on the same day the State Department announced it will add $49.8 million to humanitarian assistance the United States has provided to help victims of the conflict there.
The new aid brings to $300 million the assistance the United States has provided in fiscal years 2013 and 2014 to help South Sudanese victims of conflict and refugees seeking asylum in South Sudan, according to a media note released today by the State Department.
At the Pentagon, spokesman Army Col. Steven Warren briefed the press about the evacuation from Juba requested by the State Department.
"Early this morning," he said, "the Department of Defense sent two KC-130 aircraft [pre-positioned in Entebbe, Uganda, and] assigned to the Special-Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force-Crisis Response, also called the SPMAGTF-CR, ... to Juba to evacuate approximately 20 personnel."
Soldiers from the East Africa Response Force, assigned to U.S. Africa Command and under the command and control of Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, will continue to provide security reinforcement to the U.S. Embassy in Juba, according to an Africom statement also issued today.
Warren said only one plane landed in Juba and that the second C-130 followed along as a backup in case more room was needed for evacuees. A squad-sized element of Marines from the crisis response force went along to provide security on the ground, he said, adding that the aircraft are now back in Entebbe.
Marines from SPMAGTF-CR are trained to provide support to U.S. embassies in the form of fixed-site security, embassy reinforcement, support to noncombatant evacuation, and related missions.
"We are standing by and prepared to respond to any requests from the State Department to evacuate the few remaining personnel that are in Juba," Warren said.
"We have contingency plans in place," he added, "and we believe that we're well postured in the region to provide any type of support that is requested."
The military presence in Juba totals roughly 45 members of the East Africa Response Force, Warren said. "They were positioned in Juba several weeks ago and they remain there," he added.
At the State Department today, deputy spokesperson Marie Harf said the United States is further drawing down staffing at the embassy in Juba "out of an abundance of caution to ensure the safety and security of our diplomatic personnel."
As a result of the drawdown, she said, the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, will provide consular services for U.S. citizens in South Sudan until further notice.
"We continue to strongly recommend that U.S. citizens in South Sudan depart immediately," she added.
The State Department's new $49.8 million in humanitarian aid includes $24.8 million for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and $7.5 million for the International Committee of the Red Cross from the State Department's Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration, for their 2014 programs in South Sudan, State Department officials said.
The U.S. Agency for International Development's Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance is providing $17.5 million to U.N. agencies, including UNICEF, the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Food Program and the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
The funds will allow the U.N. agencies to provide life-saving assistance to those affected by the violence, including emergency health care services, shelter, and access to clean drinking water and hygiene and sanitation facilities. The funds also will support reunification of families separated by the fighting, the officials said.
"The United States strongly supports the efforts of the U.N., the [International Committee of the Red Cross] and other humanitarian organizations to meet humanitarian needs in South Sudan," the State Department officials wrote in today's announcement of new humanitarian funding.
"We call on all parties to the current conflict to cease hostilities, take measures to protect civilians and allow humanitarian organizations to reach those in need," they added.