Burundian soldiers board a US C-17 bound for the Central African Republic. (US Army Africa)
WASHINGTON — The international community continues to become more deeply involved in trying to stem the bloody chaos that has descended on the Central African Republic (CAR), with America’s ambassador to the U.N. leading a delegation there this week, and the White House announcing $101 million worth of aid to the country.
Ambassador Samantha Power is being joined by Linda Thomas-Greenfield, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, on her trip to CAR, with stops in Nigeria and Chad.
France has sent 1,600 peacekeepers to the country, and the African Union has committed about 6,000 troops as well, with a battalion from Burundi being airlifted in on three U.S. C-17 aircraft.
The White House released a fact sheet on CAR assistance on Thursday, which said the $101 million the U.S. has pledged will buy non-lethal equipment such as “armored personnel carriers, 4x4s, troop carriers, logistics trucks, fuel tankers, recovery vehicles, ambulances, personal protective equipment, communications, headquarters assistance and materials for construction of defensive fortifications.”
After a March coup by Muslim Seleka forces, fighting has raged between Muslim and Christian militias who call themselves the Anti-Balaka, or “anti-machete,” who have taken to attacking Muslim communities.
U.S. officials have said they fear the interim president, Michel Djotodia, who is also the leader of the Seleka militias, is consolidating power and may not honor the scheduled February 2015 presidential election.
The American response to the conflict, while criticized by some human rights groups and United Nations officials as being too slow, also highlights the Pentagon’s long-term strategy of building regional alliances as a way to promote security in places U.S. policy makers would rather not commit American forces in large numbers.
U.S. Marines have played a key role in moving the Burundian troops to the conflict zone. Marines with the Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Africa 13 have been in Burundi since October, working with local forces on marksmanship, medical and basic infantry and engineering skills training.
Most of the 150 Marines and sailors with the task force are assigned to 4th Combat Engineer Battalion, a Reserve unit headquartered in Baltimore.
Marines will continue to support the Burundian deployment by providing logistics assistance. American forces have been partnering with Burundian forces for about seven years, and that relationship has underpinned Burundi’s deployment of 5,500 troops to Somalia, along with another 450 troops preparing to link up with African Union forces in Mali.
In a Thursday statement, the State Department said that while in CAR, Power “is meeting with senior transitional government officials, as well as U.N., French and other officials, to assess and support recent efforts of African Union and French forces to protect civilians, stabilize the country and restore humanitarian access.”
Power has emphasized using force to solve humanitarian crises, and was a proponent of American involvement in Libya and Syria in recent years.
Roughly 680,000 Central Africans have fled their homes due to the fighting over the past several months, creating a huge humanitarian crisis in the 4.6 million-person former French colony.
American officials have said that getting the African-led International Support Mission to the Central African Republic (MISCA) up and running is the first goal of the international community.
The State Department’s Linda Thomas Greenfield told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday that “building their capacity on the ground is the fastest possible means of addressing the security concerns,” adding that “we’re focusing our attention on getting the troop-contributing countries on the ground, making sure that they’re well trained, that they are well equipped, and then getting them outside of the capital.”
The United States has committed three C-17s to ferry African and French troops and supplies to CAR in recent weeks, along with U.S. Air Force personnel to coordinate their movement in and out of the country.