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State Dept. requests more Marine embassy guards amid crisis in South Sudan

Dec. 19, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Civilians arrive at the United Nations Mission in South Sudan compound to take refuge from the violence of an attempted coup. Marines quickly reinforced the U.S. Embassy.
Civilians arrive at the United Nations Mission in South Sudan compound to take refuge from the violence of an attempted coup. Marines quickly reinforced the U.S. Embassy. (Rolla Hinedi/UNMISS via AP)
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The State Department is calling on the Marine Corps’ new Security Augmentation Unit to help shore up protection at the U.S. embassy in South Sudan following Wednesday’s order to evacuate the diplomatic post amid violence stemming from an attempted coup, Marine Corps Times has learned.

At least two squad-size teams with the unit, which is based in Quantico, Va., have been dispatched to Juba, South Sudan’s capital, according to a Defense Department official who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the mission’s sensitive nature. They will assist the existing detachment of Marine security guards, which remains on post tasked with protecting the facility, the official said.

The Marine security guard detachment in Juba is one of the newest to be activated following a push by Congress to increase the number of military personnel assigned to diplomatic posts around the world. Plans call for growing the Marine Corps’ Embassy Security Group by 1,000 in the coming years.

Juba is one of about 50 locations identified by the State Department as places where they would like to add Marine detachments. Dozens have been killed in the fighting, which is being fueled by longstanding ethnic tensions, according to media reports from South Sudan.

This past summer, the Marine Corps also established new embassy security detachments in Casablanca, Morocco and Freetown, Sierra Leone.

The Marine Security Augmentation Unit — or MSAU — was created as part of the service’s response to boost diplomatic security capabilities following the terrorist 2011 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which left four Americans dead, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. The MSAU dispatches squad-size teams wherever and whenever a need for reinforcement arises. The unit made up of trained Marine security guards, and can respond directly to calls from the ambassador, chief of mission or regional security officer at an embassy that’s in trouble.

In all, 120 personnel were evacuated from Juba to Nairobi, Kenya. The effort was led by the Defense Department, which transported the embassy workers aboard two C-130 aircraft.

Members of the East Africa Response Force, a Djibouti-based joint quick-response team also formed in the wake of Benghazi, were called in first to provide immediate security, officials said in a news release.

The State Department is urging all U.S. citizens in South Sudan leave following the outbreak of fighting there. Marie Harf, a spokeswoman, issued a statement Wednesday calling on leaders in South Sudan to resolve their political differences through peaceful and diplomatic means.

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