According to The Associated Press, civilian helicopters have evacuated US citizens from Bor, a South Sudan city experiencing extensive violence, although 3,000 citizens from countries such as Canada, Britain and Kenya remain trapped there.
Toby Lanzer, the UN's humanitarian coordinator, said Australians, Ugandans and Ethiopians are also among 15,000 total people seeking protection at a UN base in Bor, a city that could see increasing violence in the days ahead.
The death toll from a week of violence in South Sudan has likely surpassed 1,000 people, though there are no firm numbers available, Lanzer said. The number of internal refugees has likely surpassed 100,000, he said, who is seeking urgent financial assistance from the international community.
Bor is the city where rebel forces fired on three US military aircraft on Saturday (December 21), forcing Ospreys, advanced helicopter-airplane hybrids, to abort their evacuation mission. On Sunday (December 22), the US evacuated Americans by civilian US and UN helicopters.
COMMENT: Last week the US evacuated 380 Americans and 300 others from South Sudan, which has seen vicious, ethnically targeted violence. Military commanders loyal to the country's ousted vice president have defected and say they are now in control of regions that hold lucrative oil fields.
The violence began late on December 15. South Sudan President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, said last week that an attempted military coup had triggered the violence, and the blame was placed on former Vice President Riek Machar, an ethnic Nuer.
Other officials have since said a fight between Dinka and Nuer members of the presidential guard triggered the fighting, which spiraled across the country.
Analysts have suggested that a tribal militia known as the White Army — from the Lou Nuer ethnic group — is moving toward Bor, which is populated by Dinkas.
The US over the weekend deployed about 46 troops to help evacuate US citizens. That was in addition to 45 troops sent to the capital of Juba last week to protect the US Embassy. Four US troops were wounded in the evacuation attempt on Saturday.
President Obama over the weekend sent a letter to congressional leaders letting them know he may take further military action in South Sudan to protect US citizens, personnel and property.
Fighting continued over the weekend, as the central government acknowledged it has lost control of Bentiu, the capital of Unity, a key oil-producing state.
East African leaders are leading diplomatic efforts to avoid a full-blown civil war. South Sudan experienced decades of war with Sudan, which it peacefully broke away from in 2011.
Having participated in a number of both permissive and hostile evacuations over the course of my career as a US Regional Security Officer (RSO), it is critical that dedicated threat analysts with experience in global regions be deployed WITH operational assets so as to take advantage of narrow time windows during which mass evacuations can be effectively mounted.
If critical time windows are not seized, the end result is that nations without sufficient air assets potentially could be trapped with no one to evacuate them in "hot" zones.
From my personal experience, UN-provided assets are almost always inadequate in CRITICAL threat nations which very often leaves UN personnel "asset-deficient" and subject to injury and/or death.
One can only hope that the UN will do a much better job in contacting family members outside of South Sudan through the use of social media than they have in the past.