U.S. Aircraft Hit by Gunfire in South Sudan as Conflict Worsens

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) -

Gunfire hit three U.S. military aircraft trying to evacuate American citizens in a remote region of South Sudan that on Saturday became a battle ground between the country’s military and renegade troops, officials said. Four U.S. service members were wounded in the attack in the same region where gunfire downed a U.N. helicopter the day before.

The U.S. military aircraft were about to land in Bor, the capital of the state of Jonglei and scene of some of the nation’s worst violence over the last week, when they were hit. The military said the four wounded troops were in stable condition.

The U.S. military said three CV-22 Ospreys — aircraft that can fly like a helicopter and plane — were “participating in a mission to evacuate American citizens in Bor.” A South Sudan official said violence against civilians there has resulted in bodies “sprinkled all over town.”

“After receiving fire from the ground while approaching the site, the aircraft diverted to an airfield outside the country and aborted the mission,” the statement said. “The injured troops are being treated for their wounds.” It was not known how many U.S. civilians are in Bor.

After the aircraft took incoming fire, they turned around and flew to Entebbe, Uganda. From there, the service members were flown to Nairobi, Kenya aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 for medical treatment, the statement said.

South Sudan’s military spokesman, Col. Philip Aguer, said that government troops are not in control of Bor, so the attack on the U.S. aircraft has to be blamed on renegade soldiers.

Earlier this week, President Barack Obama dispatched American troops to help protect the U.S. Embassy in the capital, Juba. The embassy organized at least five emergency evacuation flights to help Americans leave the country. Other countries like Britain, Germany and Italy also helped citizens evacuate.

Obama, who is vacationing in Hawaii, was keeping an eye on the tense situation in South Sudan. He said continued violence and militancy in South Sudan may cost the world’s newest country the support of the U.S. and other nations.