Posted: 3:22 am ET
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On August 17, we blogged about South Sudan troops targeting Americans in the country. (see Americans Targeted in South Sudan, a Country That Gets $1.5B in American Humanitarian Aid). On July 8,2016, CNN citing State Department officials reported that shots were fired at U.S. embassy vehicles on July 7 and personnel at the embassy were briefly ordered to shelter in place after gunfire and explosions rocked the capital of Juba, including near the Presidential Palace. At that time, the official spox told CNN, “We do not believe our vehicles and personnel were specifically targeted and have no indication that the security forces were instructed to fire on our vehicles. However, we condemn this attack on U.S. embassy personnel.”
The July 7 attack described in detail below preceded the assaults and rapes that occurred in the Terrain compound on July 11 but did not become front page news until mid-August. A State Department official told FP that “We do not believe our vehicles and personnel were specifically targeted.” The report, however, notes that “the front windshields of the two armored SUVs held laminated cards emblazoned with the American flag. In plain sight were diplomatic license plates with the number 11, a well-known calling card in Juba that proclaims the world’s reigning superpower is passing through town.”
Via FP’s Colum Lynch:
State Department officials provided Foreign Policy with conflicting accounts of whether the department had conducted a formal investigation into the incident, with one official saying it hadn’t, and another saying it had carried out some form of investigation. But both officials said they have demanded South Sudan carry out an investigation and hold those responsible to account. The State Department has also downplayed the role of the South Sudanese in targeting U.S. diplomats, saying there was no way to know whether Kiir’s presidential guard knew who they were shooting at.
“We do not believe our vehicles and personnel were specifically targeted,” a State Department official told FP. “I think we can speak with certainty the people in the convoy did not identify themselves necessarily to the soldiers or say that it was an American convoy.”
Anxious that Juba was set to explode, Molly Phee, the U.S. ambassador to South Sudan, phoned Donegan [note: Jim Donegan, post’s DCM] and six other American diplomats at the restaurant and ordered them to cut short a farewell dinner for a colleague over beer and Indian food. The Americans’ two armored SUVs were passing by the palace when more than half a dozen presidential guards stationed at a checkpoint pulled them to the side of the road. Brandishing AK-47 assault rifles, they yelled at the Americans in a mix of Arabic and Dinka, South Sudan’s main indigenous language. At one point, the soldiers tried to force one of the car doors open, prompting the South Sudanese driver in the lead vehicle to floor it.
The second car followed as the guards opened fire from behind at both vehicles, forcing Donegan’s car to swerve into a parked car, which happened to be owned by a senior South Sudanese national security official. The trail car whizzed past, sideswiping Donegan’s vehicle as it barreled down the main thoroughfare before turning onto CPA Road — named after the U.S.-brokered Comprehensive Peace Agreement — and racing back to the U.S. Embassy. A second group of more than half a dozen South Sudanese troops, dressed in government military uniforms, unleashed a barrage of fire at the Americans. A third cluster of armed soldiers farther along the escape route sprayed the speeding American vehicles.
But Donegan’s vehicle had been badly crippled, temporarily stalling as South Sudanese soldiers fired into its tinted windows. The driver got the car restarted but could only hobble down the road, since two tires had blown out. They made the turn at CPA Road before coming to a second and final stop, fortunately out of sight of their would-be assailants. Donegan and his colleagues waited on the suddenly quiet road for 10 to 15 minutes, before the Marines arrived and brought them back to the embassy.
Read more below:
12 FAM 030 says that the Accountability Review Board process is “a mechanism to foster more effective security of U.S. missions and personnel abroad by ensuring a thorough and independent review of security-related incidents.” This is a security-related incident but as far as we are aware, no ARB has been convened. The FAM also says that “a Board will be convened for the express purpose of investigating only that incident or those incidents specified by the Secretary.” No announcement has been made that indicates Secretary Kerry has asked for an investigation of this incident.
An OIG review from 2013 warned that the current facility in Juba puts embassy employees at risk. Correct us if we’re wrong on this, but we think this is the same facility occupied by the embassy to-date. Couple a deficient facility with a host country unable to control its troops and where presidential guards have now opened fire at embassy vehicles, and you’ve got a security nightmare in the making. If that’s not enough to give you pause, scroll through the comments on Embassy Juba’s Facebook page; you might learn something about how the United States is perceived in a country that it helped gain independence in 2011.