Posted: 3:36 am ET
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]
The AP report says that “the attack on the Terrain hotel compound in Juba last month shows the hostility toward foreigners and aid workers by troops under the command of South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir, who has been fighting supporters of rebel leader Riek Machar since civil war erupted in December 2013.” (See How the World’s Youngest Nation Descended Into Bloody Civil War). The State Department’s official spox declined to say whether Americans were targeted but the Daily Beast piece includes the beating of an American “with belts and rifle butts for about an hour, accusing him of hiding rebels. “You tell your embassy how we treated you,” one soldier told him as he fled to a nearby UN compound.” During the attack on the Terrain, several survivors also told the AP that soldiers specifically asked if they were Americans.
The attack on the Terrain compound occurred on July 11. On July 17, the Special Envoy to South Sudan tweeted that the U.S. is not going to take “offensive action” against South Sudan.
On August 15, over a month after this horrific incident, USUN Ambassador Samantha Power released a statement that the United States is “outraged of the assaults and rapes of civilians … last month.” The US Embassy in Juba received distressed calls, so officials knew this happened before it became front page news. Still, it took the US over a month to publicly acknowledge this outrage.
A brief backgrounder here — South Sudan gained independence on July 9, 2011, after being at war with Sudan for nearly 40 of the past 57 years. USCG Juba became the US Embassy at the same time. In early 2013, State/OIG conducted an inspection of the USG’s newest embassy in the world. One of the OIG’s key findings at that time is the Department inability to staff Embassy Juba adequately, “preventing the embassy from functioning as effectively as it should.” The embassy operates out of a small chancery deemed too small to accommodate additional staff and the new embassy is not scheduled for construction until 2018. The report warns that the current facility puts embassy employees at risk. The inability to add more staff also leaves assistance programs vulnerable to failure or misuse of funds. The report indicates that the Department has decided to keep the mission with its current footprint until construction of a new embassy, which won’t happen until 2018. It will be a number of years, however, until the new embassy is ready. The OIG concludes that personnel and the integrity of our programs will remain at risk. (see US Embassy Juba: Dear Congress, This Facility Puts Employees “At Risk” But Hey, Waivers) and US Embassy Juba: An All-in-One Consular Officer on First Rodeo Works Out of a Storage Closet.
The US Embassy in Juba has a small U.S. force guarding it but its ability to function as an embassy is only possible with the protection of the host country. With South Sudan government troops targeting Americans, how is it that the US Embassy in Juba is still open?
Below is an excerpt from the Daily Press Briefing with the spox addressing what Embassy Juba did during and following the attack. It also show the limits of what the US Government can do despite being the largest donor in South Sudan.
Via DPB on August 15, 2016:
MS TRUDEAU: Yes. And I’m glad for this. Please.
QUESTION: There was a fairly disturbing account put out today of the July 11th attack on the Terrain hotel compound. And as part of it, survivors are saying that they waited for hours after calling for help from the U.S. embassy as well as other embassies in the area, with no one responding. Do you dispute that, and do you have any timeline that you can share with us about what occurred during the time of the assault?
MS TRUDEAU: Okay. So I think we’ve all seen those horrific reports. I want to say at the top that privacy considerations will prevent me from talking about any specific part of this in detail. But as I go through this, I do not in any way want to minimize in any way, shape, or form what people might have gone through during that crisis in South Sudan.
So in terms of the timeline: In the midst of the ongoing fighting throughout the city between government and opposition forces, Embassy Juba actively responded to the July 11 assault on a private compound hosting U.S. citizens, among others. Upon learning about the attacks at Terrain camp, Ambassador Phee immediately – herself – immediately contacted South Sudanese government officials, including officials in the presidential guard and National Security Service. National Security Service sent a response force to the site and put a stop to the attack. Presidential guard forces also went to the scene, but they arrived after the National Security Service.
Following the attack and in the midst of ongoing fighting and violence throughout Juba, including in the immediate vicinity of the embassy, the U.S. embassy ensured that U.S. citizens and foreign nationals affected by the attack were moved to safety and provided emergency medical assistance. The U.S. embassy also facilitated the rapid departure of those involved from South Sudan by air ambulance.
As part of its response to the crisis in South Sudan, the U.S. embassy provided emergency services for those in need and assisted in the departure of more than 80 U.S. citizens during last month’s crisis.
We’ve stated we condemn these attacks. We have called for accountability for those who are involved in the violence.
Anything more on South Sudan?
QUESTION: So you can’t confirm that Americans were singled out and were specifically assaulted due to the fact that they were American in the course of the assault?
MS TRUDEAU: I’m not in a position to say that any particular nationality was singled out.
QUESTION: And as part of the report, it suggests that it was South Sudanese soldiers who were in fact committing this assault. So how was the U.S. embassy – how could they be assured that the people that they were calling were the ones who were actually going to help rather than contributing to the ongoing —
MS TRUDEAU: So what I can say is that the attackers in this incident wore uniforms and they were armed. There were both opposition and government troops in Juba at that time. Armed clashes were occurring throughout the city. The area where Terrain is located was controlled by the SPLA on July 10th and 11th.
QUESTION: Yeah, I just wanted – you said that the – in the midst of the ongoing attack at Terrain, you said Embassy Juba actively responded.
MS TRUDEAU: We did.
QUESTION: So the active response, though, as far as I can tell from what you said, was that the ambassador made a phone call. Is that —
MS TRUDEAU: The ambassador made several phone calls.
QUESTION: Several phone calls?
MS TRUDEAU: When we were assured that people would go out and bring people in, then we actively ensured that those people were safe. So yeah.
QUESTION: But in the midst of – while it was going – I understand what —
MS TRUDEAU: Yeah.
QUESTION: — you’re saying after it was over what you did, but during it, was there —
MS TRUDEAU: When we received reports, we called the people who are best poised to go out and make it stop, which was the National Security Services as well as the presidential guard.
QUESTION: But – yeah, I understand that, but I mean – but was it just the ambassador or did other people – did other staffers do anything? I mean, I’m just trying to get an idea of what the active response was.
MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, in terms of sequence, it was – it was reaching out to the government officials who were in a position at that place to intervene.
QUESTION: So I think that the point that at least the survivors of this or some of the survivors of the attack is, is there wasn’t any kind – any attempt to intervene. Is that not appropriate or —
MS TRUDEAU: I – it’s – again, there was an immediate response from the U.S. embassy to identify and dispatch the people who could intervene immediately in the attack.
QUESTION: Right. But the embassy itself was not in a position to do anything?
MS TRUDEAU: Was not in a position to do that.