US Air Force to begin flying peacekeepers to troubled African nation
DOHA, Qatar — The U.S. Air Force will begin transporting planeloads of African peacekeepers into the violence-torn Central African Republic in coming days, the Pentagon announced Monday.
French Minister of Defense Jean-Yves Le Drian on Sunday asked Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, in the midst of a five-country visit to the Middle East, for airlift support to help African forces to quickly deploy into the country.
“In response to this request, Secretary Hagel has directed U.S. AFRICOM to begin transporting forces from Burundi to the Central African Republic, in coordination with France,” assistant Pentagon press secretary Carl Woog said Monday.
The airlift is expected to begin within the next 24 hours, according to Pentagon spokesman Maj. Rob Firman, adding that 850 Burundian troops will be airlifted from Burundi to CAR in American C-17s. Flying time is approximately 3 hours from Burundi to CAR, he said.
France is deploying 1,600 troops to the country, a former colony that has been wracked by violence in recent days of sectarian fighting between the Seleka rebel coalition, a Muslim group that seized power in April, and Christians in the country.
French officials announced Saturday that the African Union would increase its peacekeeping force to 6,000 troops to attempt to quell fighting that has claimed hundreds of lives in recent days.
Woog said the U.S. military was working to identify other resources to help with the humanitarian crisis.
“The United States is joining the international community in this effort,” he said, “because of our belief that immediate action is required to avert a humanitarian and human rights catastrophe in the Central African Republic, and because of our interest in peace and security in the region.”
Stars and Stripes reporter Jon Harper contributed to this report.