WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama has deployed a small military contingent to South Sudan to help bolster security at the U.S. Embassy amid escalating violence in the fledgling African nation.
In a letter to Congress, Obama said the 45 military personnel were sent to South Sudan on Wednesday. While they were equipped for combat, Obama said their purpose was to protect U.S. citizens and property and that they would remain in South Sudan until the security situation there improved.
"South Sudan stands at the precipice," Obama said in a written statement. "Recent fighting threatens to plunge South Sudan back into the dark days of its past."
The president appealed for an end to the violence and urged South Sudan's leaders to show courage and reaffirm their commitment to peace.
Violence broke out in South Sudan, the world's newest country, late Sunday when the presidential guard splintered along ethnic lines. Violence in the capital of Juba spiraled from there, and then extended out into the country.
Earlier this week, the U.S. ordered nonemergency government personnel to leave South Sudan and suspended normal operations at the U.S. Embassy, although the embassy was still accepting requests for emergency assistance from Americans. On Wednesday, the Pentagon flew 120 U.S. diplomats and others out of the country, while the State Department warned U.S. citizens not to travel to South Sudan.
"U.S. citizens who choose to stay in South Sudan despite this warning should review their personal security situation and seriously reconsider their plans to remain," the department said in a travel warning.