Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Monday ordered the U.S. military to airlift foreign troops into the Central African Republic, hoping to head off a humanitarian crisis in a country torn by sectarian violence.
A senior U.S. Defense official told the Associated Press that flights would begin on Tuesday or Wednesday. The United States believes “immediate action is required to avert a humanitarian and human-rights catastrophe,” said Pentagon spokesperson Carl Woog.
“France has requested airlift support to enable African forces to deploy promptly to prevent the further spread of sectarian violence in the Central African Republic,” Woog said. “Secretary Hagel has directed U.S. AFRICOM to begin transporting forces from Burundi to the Central African Republic, in coordination with France.”
Woog added that the government will continue to consider “additional resources” that could be available for potential future requests.
The Central African Republic has seen a string of violence since Muslim rebels overthrew President Francois Bozize’s government in March and rebel leader Michel Djotodia was unanimously elected as the interim leader in April. Since being elected, Djotodia has had trouble controlling the forces that brought him to power. Militias loyal to Bozize attacked Bangui, the country’s capital, on Thursday, Reuters reports.
The troops will come from Burundi, another central African country, and join approximately 1,600 French troops that are already in the Central African Republic. The force will focus on providing humanitarian aid and disarming fighters on both sides.
Hagel’s decision follows a conversation on Sunday night with French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian about the ongoing fighting in the African country.
Marie Harf, a deputy spokesperson at the State Department, said on Friday the United States will give $40 million in equipment, training, logistical support, or some combination of the three options, to the African Union’s peacekeeping force.