The U.S. military will assist France in its efforts to bring order to the anarchic Central African Republic by airlifting African troops to the capital, the Pentagon announced Monday.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel agreed to an emergency request from France to help transport African Union soldiers into Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic. France has deployed 1,600 troops to its former colony in recent days to try to restore order in the midst of rising lawlessness and intensified street battles among rival militias.
U.S. Air Force C-17 transport planes will ferry about 850 troops into the Central African Republic from Burundi, a small East African nation about 1,000 miles away. The operation was scheduled to begin “within 24 hours,” said Maj. Robert Firman, a Pentagon spokesman.
The United States and Burundi have a history of cooperating on regional security missions. Thousands of U.S.-trained Burundian troops have been sent into Somalia in recent years to support a similar African Union military intervention there.
The Central African Republic has been seized by chaos since March, when President François Bozizéwas ousted by Muslim rebels seeking to control the predominantly Christian country. The rebel group, known as the Seleka movement, later officially disbanded itself, but its remnants have continued to fight Christian militias and others allied with Bozizé.
The U.N. Security Council last week authorized France and the African Union to send more troops to Bangui to protect civilians and impose order. The African Union has pledged to send as many as 3,500 troops into the country, but they have been slow to arrive.
The Pentagon does not plan to keep troops in Bangui, except for a small number of personnel to coordinate the transport flights, Firman said. The U.S. Embassy in Bangui suspended operations last December because of security risks in the country.
Separately, about two-dozen U.S. Special Forces troops have been deployed since last year to the remote eastern part of the Central African Republicto help track down Joseph Kony, a Ugandan rebel and the messianic leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army.
Those U.S. troops will continue to work with Ugandan forces and other militaries in the region in a coordinated hunt for Kony, Firman said.