It’s one of those things that roll like thunder during the holidays, and one absolutely has no control over the universe. Our sympathies to the embassy folks at US Embassy Bangui.
On December 22, 2012 it sent the following emergency message:
Despite a Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) summit held yesterday in Chad which called for a cessation of hostilities, rebels of the Séléka alliance have reportedly advanced towards the central city of Bambari, Central African Republic (CAR).
The Embassy has no plans to evacuate at this time. However, for the purposes of contingency planning only, the Embassy would like to inform U.S. citizens that should an evacuation become necessary, the designated assembly point for U.S. citizens will be the residence of the U.S. Ambassador, located near the Tennis Club of Bangui. Only U.S. citizens would be permitted to gain access to this site, and should bring their U.S. passport for identification purposes. U.S. citizen children would be allowed one non-U.S. citizen escort for evacuation purposes. In the event of an evacuation, the Embassy will contact U.S. citizens via e-mail, telephone, and/or radio to inform them to meet at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence. Should communication networks not function, U.S. citizens can meet at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence without waiting for notification. However, in no circumstance should U.S. citizens attempt to travel to the U.S. Ambassador’s residence if the security situation within Bangui is not permissive. In this case, sheltering-in-place is advised.
Two days later, the embassy was on authorized departure for non-emergency staff:
December 24, 2012 | As a result of increased rebel activity in the Central African Republic, on December 24, 2012, the Department of State authorized the departure of non-emergency U.S. embassy personnel from Bangui, Central African Republic. U.S. citizens should review their personal security situation and consider taking advantage of commercial flights. Embassy Bangui is able to provide only limited emergency consular services.
On Christmas Day, the embassy authorized the departure of additional personnel and suspended operations until further notice.
December 25, 2012 | As a result of increasing insecurity in the Central African Republic, on December 25, 2012, the U.S. Embassy authorized the departure of additional U.S. embassy personnel from Bangui, Central African Republic. The Embassy is also suspending normal operations until further notice. The Embassy strongly encourages U.S. citizens to take advantage of commercial flights to depart the Central African Republic until the security situation improves. Embassy Bangui is able to provide only limited emergency consular services.
Two days later, the State Department announced the Temporary Suspension of U.S. Embassy Bangui Operations
Press Statement | Office of the Spokesperson | Washington, DC | December 27, 2012
The U.S. Embassy in Bangui temporarily suspended its operations on December 28 as a result of the present security situation in the Central African Republic (CAR). We have not suspended diplomatic relations with the Central African Republic.
Ambassador Wohlers and his diplomatic team left Bangui today along with several private U.S. citizens. As a result of this suspension of operations, the embassy will not be able to provide routine consular services to American citizens in the Central African Republic until further notice.
This decision is solely due to concerns about the security of our personnel and has no relation to our continuing and long-standing diplomatic relations with the CAR.
On December 28, the State Department issued a new Travel Warning for the Central African Republic
December 28, 2012 | The Department of State warns U.S. citizens against all travel to the Central African Republic at this time. As a result of the deteriorating security situation, the U.S. Embassy in Bangui suspended its operations on December 28, 2012, and therefore cannot provide protection or routine consular services to U.S. citizens in the Central African Republic. U.S. citizens who have decided to stay in CAR should review their personal security situation and seriously consider departing, taking advantage of commercial flights. This replaces the Travel Warning of December 23, 2012, to reflect the deterioration of the security situation.
The U.S. Embassy staff in Bangui cannot provide services to U.S. citizens at this time. U.S. citizens in CAR who seek consular assistance should contact the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at CARemergencyUSC@state.gov.
WaPo reported that at the State Department’s request, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had directed U.S. Africa Command to evacuate U.S. citizens and designated foreign nationals from the U.S. Embassy in Bangui “to safe havens in the region.” Unnamed U.S. officials told WaPo that about 40 people were evacuated on an U.S. Air Force plane bound for Kenya. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the details of the operation.
An unnamed US official also told AFP that Ambassador (Lawrence) Wohlers and his diplomatic team flew out of Bangui at 0000 GMT Friday (Dec 28).
This is not the first time that the U.S. military has been called to evacuate US Embassy Bangui. On May 23, 1996 then President Clinton ordered the deployment of U.S. military personnel to Bangui, Central African Republic, to conduct the evacuation from that country of “private U.S. citizens and certain U.S. Government employees,” and to provide “enhanced security for the American Embassy in Bangui.” The embassy reopened in 1998 with limited staff.
The embassy was similarly evacuated of all staff in 2002 and resumed operations in January 2005. Who knows how long this one will last.