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Crisis team evacuates more embassy personnel in South Sudan

Jan. 3, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  

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Sgt. Andrew Rodriguez, a team leader with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response, leads the U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of South Sudan, the Honorable Susan D. Page, down the flight line in Juba during an evacuation of personnel from the U.S. Embassy on Friday. (Marine Corps)

A squad-sized team from the Corps’ new crisis response force evacuated more than 20 people from the U.S. Embassy in South Sudan on Friday as security conditions in the world’s newest country continue to deteriorate.

Two KC-130J aircraft assigned to Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response were used to move the personnel from Juba, South Sudan, to Entebbe, Uganda, said Capt. Sharon Hyland, a spokeswoman with the unit. About 150 members of the crisis response force left their base in Morón, Spain, for Djibouti last week following growing unrest in South Sudan. From there, a platoon-sized element was forward-deployed in Uganda, Hyland said.

“We still have Marines in both Uganda and Djibouti available to respond to any additional requests from the Department of State, U.S. Africa Command, or Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa,” Hyland said.

Moving the Marines to Uganda provides the combatant commander with the ability to move quickly if troops are needed to protect U.S. personnel and facilities, she said.

Soldiers from the East Africa Response Force continue to provide security reinforcement to the embassy in Juba, said Tom Saunders, a spokesman for U.S. Africa Command. The group is assigned to U.S. Africa Command and is under the control of Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa.

In mid-December, the State Department requested two squad-sized teams from the Marine Corps’ new Security Augmentation Unit to help shore up protection at the embassy. Members of that unit are trained Marine security guards who can assist the existing embassy detachment, which typically remains on post tasked with protecting the facility during a crisis.

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.

Marie Harf, a State Department spokeswoman, said the step was “out of an abundance of caution to ensure the safety and security of our diplomatic personnel.”

Because so many people have been evacuated in recent weeks, Harf said the U.S. Embassy in Juba is no longer in a position to provide consular services to American citizens in South Sudan.

The department is urging U.S. citizens to leave the country immediately.

Staff writer Jeff Schogol contributed to this report.

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