On July 12 the United States deployed a contingent of 200 US marines to Juba, in South Sudan. Immediately there followed a media frenzy which is partly because the US government did not publicly announce the deployed the marines and the media did not have the exact number of military personnel deployed or the reason. That led to another media frenzy speculating that the US might just be plotting to invade South Sudan.
In an attempt to clear up the confusion the officials at US State Department sent out a statement, at night on the Sunday, 17 July, “reassuring the people and the government of South Sudan that we are not planning, nor will plan, to target any government or military leaders, nor will we import special military equipment with the goal of destabilizing South Sudan.”
“Any suggestion that the United States has done so or will do so is false, baseless, and not in the interest of peace in South Sudan. We want to make clear to the people and the government of South Sudan that the United States has no plan for offensive action in their country,” said the statement by Mark C. Toner, the Deputy Department Spokesperson.
The statement also stated that in order to keep the US embassy open, on July 12 a small contingent of U.S. military personnel deployed to Juba to assist the Embassy in temporarily bolstering its security and assisting with the departure of non-emergency personnel.
“The additional U.S. troops in Juba and those dispatched to neighbouring countries are there only to protect the Embassy and American citizens who are leaving South Sudan because of the conflict. Citizens of Juba can expect to see a rotation in military personnel during the week of July 18. This rotation of troops is to replace not reinforce the number of military personnel. All of the additional troops will return home when the need for additional security no longer exists,” Toner added.
He ended the statement with “Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of South Sudan and your families during this difficult time. We mourn with you the tragic loss of life that has taken place since this crisis began. We welcome the July 11 ceasefire in Juba put in place by the SPLA/M-In Government and the SPLM-In Opposition and urge both sides to remain committed to the ceasefire and to protecting and ensuring the welfare of civilians in Juba and elsewhere throughout the country.”
But the media didn’t believe him. And so it was that on 18 July – the very next day after the statement – the media pounded looking for truth. It did help that the State Department have its daily press briefing for the media. Below is the excerpted transcript of the questions on US’ supposedly invasion of South Sudan:
QUESTION: Can I turn to South Sudan?
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: I’m curious why the U.S. felt it necessary to explain over the weekend that it wasn’t – and to reassure South Sudan that you weren’t basically trying to take over the country.
MR TONER: Well, I think it was an effort to simply tamp down what was an unwarranted and un – or baseless rumour that somehow the U.S. was planning some military action in South Sudan. We felt it best simply to come out publicly and refute that as strongly as possible given, I think, the volatility of the situation on the ground and the sensitivity of the situation on the ground, that we want – we certainly didn’t want any misperceptions or any rumours picking up steam among the people in South Sudan.
QUESTION: So the South Sudanese leaders had not asked you? Is that – these were just purely rumours or press reports, or —
MR TONER: Exactly. I mean, we were picking up from our folks on the ground these kinds of rumours that were being generated. I don’t want to speak to who was behind them; I don’t know. But we felt that they were getting enough pickup, if you will, enough legs, that we felt we needed to address them.
QUESTION: Has it – did it have anything to do with the 200 U.S. military personnel that were – that are – have been sent to South Sudan?
MR TONER: Well, and that was something – again, we tried to address that in the statement that we released yesterday, which is that we did send a small contingent on July 12th of U.S. military personnel that was sent simply to assist the embassy in bolstering its security and also assisting with the departure of nonemergency personnel. That’s it. And so we wanted to make very clear that there was no other or ulterior motive to these military personnel being on the ground in Juba. And we just wanted to explain their presence to the citizens of Juba.