Rooster Flight 73, ambushed during South Sudan evacuation mission
By Ed Marek, Editor
October 29, 2015
On October 6, 2015 the Air Force Magazine published an article by Aaron M.U. Church, “Blood over Bor.” On December 21, 2003, three USAF CV-22 Osprey aircraft from the 8th Special Operations Squadron (SOS) flew from Djibouti to Bor, South Sudan with 21 Navy SEALs aboard. Their mission was to evacuate approximately 20-30 Americans stuck in Bor amidst a freshly erupted civil war. Hostile forces on the ground ambushed the flight, heavily damaged all three aircraft, severely wounded at least four Navy SEALs, and wounded others aboard the aircraft. By feats of enormous courage, valor and superior airmanship all three aircraft made it to their divert field at Entebbe, Uganda, and all hands survived. The photo shows an 8th SOS CV-22 in a training flight.
This was a special operations mission, so getting details and full background are tough, if not impossible.
I am going to do something for this report I usually do not do. On the one hand, I will describe what happened as best as I can discern. On the other hand, based on what I have researched, I am going to express some apprehension about how it this mission appears to have been planned. I do this acknowledging I do not have all the facts. That said, I will explain why I am being so critical when I get to it..
To start, let me summarize what happened on December 21, 2013.
The Republic of South Sudan broke away from Sudan by an agreed-on referendum. It became a new country as of June 2011 and achieved international recognition and a seat at the UN. Juba is the capital.
The US, in response to the 9-11 Islamic attack against the United States, set up Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) in November 2002 at Camp Lejune, North Carolina, and in May 2003 moved it to the French Camp Lemonier, Djibouti City, Djibouti. It is subordinate to the Africa Command (AFRICOM). It's area of responsibility (AOR) is shown on the map.
I will discuss the political and military turbulence in this region later. Let me simply say here that South Sudan entered into a civil war on December 15, 2013, six days before the 8th SOS mission. This civil war was a continuation of a long history of violence and warfare internally. This civil war began in Juba and spread quickly throughout the country — by quickly I mean almost overnight.
It was very violent, brutal and bloody. Many, many civilians were simply murdered and left to rot, usually targeted killings of civilians based on their ethnic origins and nationality, much like what happened during the Rwanda genocide.
The Obama administration — I do not know exactly who — directed a military mission to Juba to evacuate American citizens. On December 18, 2013 a military authority, I presume CJTF-HOA, sent three USAF 8th SOS CV-22s and two MC-130s to the capital, Juba to start the evacuation.
This was a 1,000 mile trip. The 8th SOS, which was deployed to Lemonier, is the only front-line Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) squadron to operate the CV-22. The squadron was selected for this mission because it was a long range mission, air-to-air refueling would be required, and the squadron was trained to work with special operations forces, in this case, the SEALs. In short, the CV-22s had the range, speed and capacity to make the trip that helicopters did not have. The MC-130s were sent to provide in-flight refueling.
My reading of the available reports is that military authority also dispatched C-130 transport aircraft which had much greater capacity than the CV-22. I believe the intent was for the C-130s to land at Juba, pick up their evacuees, and depart, while the CV-22s landed, and disembarked the SEALs to provide perimeter security and help the evacuees. Furthermore, my reading is that the US considered this an emergency evacuation and that the aircraft, crews and SEALs, along with the C-130 transports, were the most suited forces immediately available to conduct this evacuation.
When they got there, the runway at Juba airport, shown here, was blocked. The C-130s were not able to get in. This was an indication that rebels had taken the airport, or at least were there creating havoc. As a result, the CV-22s turned around and returned to Lemonier. The runway was eventually cleared and the C-130s got into Juba and evacuated about 20 people to Nairobi, Kenya.
With regard to the CV-22s, attention now turned to evacuating American citizens from Bor, the provincial capital of Jonglei Province, roughly 100 miles north of Juba and still a 1,000 mile trip from Djibouti. Thousands of rebels had encircled Bor (photo is an aerial view of the city). I should interject here that the 8th SOS normally flies special forces on raids, usually at night. This would be a day-time civilian evacuation mission.
Bor hosted a UN compound that was part of a UN peacekeeping mission there. The UN compound is highlighted by the yellow arrow on the right. You can see the runway was across a highway and a few fields. The yellow arrow on the left marks where aircraft park and, I assume, take on and offload passengers.
This is the aircraft parking area on the north end of the runway. I am assuming most people to be evacuated were here, while thousands of refugees were largely at the UN compound.
TSgt. David Shea, a flight engineer aboard one of the CV-22s, said "there were a lot of Americans up in Bor." There was also other international staff at Bor. Furthermore, overall some 10,000 - 14,000 refugees were at the UN compound at Bor. One part of the compound is shown in this photo, date of photo unknown.
The 8th SOS received short notice for the Bor mission, scheduled for December 21, 2013. This was because the rebels were moving in quickly and had already done a lot of damage. The estimate was there were about 2,000 rebels circling the city.
It was difficult to determine who held the runway at Bor. Prior to the flight, somehow, someone said they contacted the rebels at Bor and informed them that US military aircraft would be coming in to evacuate Americans. The word came to the CV-22 detachment at Lemonier that the rebels would be expecting them and the landing zone would be a “permissive environment.” That raises immediate questions because some ground force had shot down a helicopter in the Bor area the day before. The CV-22 crews were told Indian peacekeepers were in control of the UN compound, but the implication of rebel assurances of a "permissive environment" is the rebels controlled the airport.
In any event, three Ospreys flying on what was known as Rooster 73 Flight, callsigns Rooster 73, 74 and 75, left Lemonier at 0600 hours on December 21, 2013. The Ospreys carried 21 SEALs, pararescue troops (PJs), and medical people along with agency liaisons. The crews hooked up for one refueling on the way to Bor on what was described as a routine flight.
They arrived at Bor on time, as scheduled. Several miles east of Bor, the aircraft dropped to low altitude, about 200 ft., and conducted a low pass to assess conditions on the ground. Their rough estimate was there were at least 10,000 people crammed into the small UN compound. The airstrip next to the UN compound appeared clear, so Rooster flight circled back and Roster 73 prepared to land. I have assumed the Americans were at the aircraft parking area on the northwest end of the runway.
Rooster 73 went through his preparations to land, which required him to transition his engines and rotors from the horizontal to vertical position so he could land like a helicopter. Just for the sake of a quick discussion, from the videos I have seen, as he goes through this transition he normally will still fly forward, though at slower speeds because the propellers are vertical. He could land on a roll, or straight up and down. Whatever the case, he is, like a helicopter, vulnerable as he sets down vertically as it is a comparatively slow process and the silhouette of the CV-22 is large. I do not know where Rooster 73 was in relation to the UN compound and the runway, but I will hazard a guess somewhere in-between, flying forward but with engines just about fully vertical. I do not know whether he intended to land on a roll or straight down.
As he was in the final stages of landing, he was ambushed by heavy small arms and anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) fire. I have seen one report saying rocket propelled grenades may have been employed. The fuselage of Rooster 73, the lead, was pummeled with hostile fire. TSgt. Shea said, It just erupted … They lit us up pretty good." Multiple systems started failing including electrical and hydraulic systems, and his fuel lines were hit as well, causing fuel to flow out.
The skipper of Rooster 73 lead, Major Ryan Mittelstet, came on the radio and said, ”Taking fire! Taking fire! Go around! Go around!” By “go round” he was telling Roster 74 and 75 too forget trying to land, break out of the formation and get out of the area. Both CV-22s did as instructed.
Capt. Arjun Rau, Rooster 74 co-pilot, commented, “We were turning right, and I see a red tracer fly by my head. I thought it was a road flare. It turned out to be a tracer … I thought about, initially, almost nothing. I was kind of a little bit in shock at first over being shot at. But then everyone went right into thinking, ‘OK, what do we do next?’” The Air Force Times reported, “(Rau’s) seat in the Osprey’s cockpit began to shake. Small-arms and heavy machine gun rounds peppered his aircraft, and the two others in the flight. The carbon fiber floor started to shred and the armor under his seat began to rumble as rounds came through the aircraft.”
Fingarson, said, "On the initial approach, the formation came under heavy fire from heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire … I couldn't tell immediately if we'd come under fire, but I knew I had to maneuver the aircraft out of the weapons engagement zone … I took swift corrective actions to make the aircraft as unpredictable as possible in order to make it difficult for gunfire to hit us."
Fortunately, TSgt. Shea aboard Rooster lead, was hit in the armor chest plate, no injury, but he was covered in blood from the others inside the aircraft. As he looked around, he determined the blood was coming from wounded SEALs. As it turned out, four of the SEALs were badly wounded.
As he went to man his gun, Shea saw a very large refugee crowd below, determined that the attackers had hidden themselves inside the crowd, and therefore decided not to return fire. Shea called it a “full-up ambush.” I'll briefly pause to say this means to me, when he looked out, he saw the refugees in the UN compound. I remain unsure where the Americans to be rescued were, though I would have thought they would be over at the aircraft parking area outside the UN compound and across the road and field. It is also not clear to me that anyone saw from where the ambush was coming.
As it turned out, all three CV-22s were badly damaged. There were flight control failures and hydraulic and fuel leaks on all three aircraft, and three of the wounded were in critical condition. The vapors from the fuel leak were so bad on Rooster 73 the crew could barely breathe. Shea felt he had to raise the rear ramp. Regrettably, that caused the hydraulic fluids to flow out.
Major Mittelstet decided to divert to Entebbe, Uganda (shown here), about 500 miles or about 90 minutes away, but at least not 1,000 miles. The MC-130 tankers had remained in the area, orbiting, and they worked to keep Rooster 73 filled with fuel all the way to Entebbe. Rooster 74 was hit badly as well and lined up number two for fuel, while Rooster 75 was the least damaged, though badly damaged, and he took up the number three position for fuel.
During the flight to Entebbe, medics aboard Rooster 74 assessed the wounds to the SEALs in Rooster 73 by radio and organized an “airborne blood bank." The Osprey crews acquired the blood types of the wounded and began drawing matching blood from personnel on board while in the air to ensure an immediate transfusion upon arrival in Entebbe, Uganda.
Rooster 73 require a second refueling. Once across the Ugandan border, the crews had a chance to check out their battle damage. Rooster 73 lost his generator and the hydraulic system needed for the landing gear, fuel probe, ramp and door, and nose wheel steering, among other issues. The aircraft had a pressurized nitrogen system to “blow down” the landing gear for the approach to Entebbe.
MSgt. Alberto Delgado, flight engineer on Rooster 75, said, “We took a lot of fire, we took a lot of damage …The aircraft proved to be very battle hardened.” Capt. Rau commented, “We were shot multiple times in multiple fuel cells … The equipment didn’t explode. The leak was stopped.”
An USAF C-17 transport was headed for the US with Army passengers, but the 8th SOS operations officer, Lt. Colonel Mark Newell, shown here, arranged to get the C-17’s mission changed to a medevac mission. The C-17 was diverted to meet the Ospreys at Entebbe. Luckily, many of the Army passengers aboard the C-17 were medics and surgeons. The doctors and the medics on the ground took the donated blood right away and transfused it to the worst injured, saving several lives.
The C-17 uploaded the wounded and launched to Nairobi where there was a trauma hospital. The Americans left at Bor were picked up the next day, by UN and civilian helicopters and flown to Juba. All crew and passengers aboard all three CV-22s survived. The three aircraft were hit on the order of 120 times by hostile fire.
So that’s a summation of Rooster flight on December 21, 2013. The National Aeronautic Association awarded the 2013 Mackay Trophy for the Air Force’s “most meritorious flight of the year” to the three 8th SOS Osprey crews.
The Army earlier had deployed soldiers to Lemonier from the 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, Ft. Riley, Kansas, to serve as the Army’s East Africa Response Force. On December 19, 2013 President Obama informed the Congress he had sent 45 of these soldiers to Juba to help the evacuation and provide security. The force left Djibouti by C-130 to Juba on December 14, 2013 to support the embassy's ordered departure. The photo shows them aboard the C-130 on their way. As you can see, the group was combat capable. The 45 soldiers got to Juba just before the rebels seized the town of Bor. C-130s evacuated citizens from Juba while these 45 soldiers went to reinforce the US embassy in Juba.
Marines from the Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force-Crisis Response conducted the evacuation. This photo shows a Marine escorting US citizens down the flight line in Juba during the evacuation of January 3, 2014.
So now let’s spend some time educating ourselves about the background to all this followed by some critical editorial comments from me.
Questions about how this mission was planned and organized
Extraordinarily dangerous place, complete disregard for human life
I'll provide a very brief background on South Sudan. In my view, it was and remains an extraordinarily dangerous place often with no regard for human life. James Copal has written a book about this, A Poisonous Thorn in our Hearts. I'll return to Copal in a moment.
The Nile River, and its tributaries the White and Blue Nile Rivers flow south to north through all of Sudan. The White Nile is considered to be the headwaters of the Nile rising in the Lake Victoria region of central Africa, while the Blue Nile originates in Ethiopia. They meet near Khartoum, Sudan.
Many kingdoms and powers have based themselves along the Nile and have fought against the people of Sudan for centuries. There are a few pints I would like to highlight that affect North and South Sudan.
First, there is a separation that crosses Africa east-to-west. If you look at this satellite map, the separation lies between the Sahara desert to the north and the lush green farming land to the south. Mostly Arabs, Islamic Arabs, live in Saharan Africa, many along the coast. Mostly Blacks, non-Islamic, many of whom have become Christians over the decades as the result of missionaries, live in what is known as sub-Saharan Africa. So there is an in-grown tension there: Arab vs. Black, Islamic vs. Christian.
Second, the North is relatively prosperous compared to the South. There are many reasons for this which I cannot discuss here.
And third, in the case of Sudan, massive oil reserves lie between Sudan and South Sudan. Most of the oil reserves are in South Sudan, while most of the pipelines are in Sudan moving the oil to the main exporting port at Port Sudan in Sudan. The South has accused Khartoum of stealing millions of dollars in oil while Sudan wants the South to pay fees for using Sudan's infrastructure. There are many other bones of contention among the two Sudans.
Hannah McNeish, a GlobalPost reporter, has said, "The two nations (Sudan and South Sudan) have been accused of fighting a proxy war by funding rebel groups along one another’s borders." The salaries to pay these forces are sizable, and failure to pay them has caused revolt within various security forces, making their wars even more complex and, in my view, unpredictable.
In 1820, Egypt took control of Sudan. Then in 1882 the British seized control of both Egypt and Sudan, largely the result of the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. From 1924 onwards, the British essentially divided Sudan into two separate territories–a predominantly Muslim Arabic-speaking north, and a predominantly Animist and Christian south, where the use of English was encouraged. The Arab Muslims in northern Sudan intended to "arabize" the south under Islamic rule.
Under the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936 the British terminated their occupation of Egypt, but maintained forces in Sudan and the Suez Canal.
For a number of reasons, the British agreed to guarantee Sudanese independence. Sudan became a sovereign state in 1956. This photo shows Prime Minister Isma'il Alazhari (right), in the presence of opposition leader Mohamed Ahmed Almahjoub (left), raising Sudan's flag at the independence ceremony on January 1, 1956.
The SPLA fought to establish independence for the south. The SPLA strongly opposed Sudanese efforts to implement Sharia law. Warfare ensued continuously from that point on. As a matter of interest, many of the pro-government forces that fought against the SPLA were multiple and divergent militias. And, the SPLA was much the same, a patchwork of troops many with varied loyalties. One result of this great diversity of fighters is the evolution of a history of death and carnage that is about as depressing as things can get. To say that there was a complete disregard for human life is an understatement, in my view.
Eventually, after decades of fighting and killing to include massacres, wholesale slaughters, indiscriminate murders and genocides, the South achieved independence in 2011. This photo shows the jubilation celebrated in Juba, South Sudan.
Bor became an administrative center under Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, and is seen by many as the birthplace for the SPLA, as I said previously, an epicenter for civil war. This is an aerial view. In 2006 it had about 26,000 people in the city. When Sudan and South Sudan separated, the SPLA became the South Sudanese Army, but loyalties within its ranks were tenuous at best, with many favoring rebelling against the new South Sudanese government ad rebelling for the sake of rebelling.
The people of Bor suffered a massacre of 2,500 - 5000 people on November 15, 1991 during what was known as the Second Sudanese Civil War. Most experts say that Nuer ethnic fighters, known as the White Army, led by Riek Machar, are responsible for the massacre. Machar admitted to that in 2012 after becoming vice president of South Sudan in 2011.
December 15, 2013 is seen as the beginning of the civil war in which Rooster flight found itself. President Salva Kiir (left), an ethnic Dinka, stood opposed politically and militarily to his vice president, Riek Machar (right), an ethnic Nuer. Machar had said he would challenge Kiir for leadership of the ruling party with the intent of running for president in 2015. Kiir fired Machar in July 2013, purged much of his cabinet, and a serious power struggle ensued. Kiir claimed Machar engineered a failed coup on December 16. Machar retreated to the hinterlands and led a rebellion against South Sudan's government, directing rebels in Jonglei, Malakai and Unity states. You will recall Jonglei Province is the home of Bor City.
This war of 2013 that inflicted such damage on Rooster flight fundamentally was the result of fighting between tribes, the Dinka and Nuer, a power struggle that had pitted both groups against each other in Sudan's civil war of the early 1990s. The country is largely ethnic Dinka.
It was also one between government and renegade forces, and many of the government forces were of arguable allegiance.The Nuer were mainly on the receiving end at the start of this civil war. At one point some 20,000 of them residing in Juba fled to the UN compound there seeking refuge. The crisis became a nationwide one. Seven out of the country’s ten states were affected by the conflict with Central Equatoria, Jonglei, Lakes, Unity and Upper Nile states being the hardest hit. Bor, Jonglei Province, became a center for violence between these forces.
James Copnal, writing "South Sudan's massacre among many," wrote this about what happened in Bor in December 2013:
White Army militia
"This conflict has been marked by a persistent disregard for the sanctity of civilian lives … Rebels, and in particular the unruly mob known as the White Army have raped and slaughtered in Bor and Malakal, including in the hospitals of both towns. In most cases, civilians who reached a UN base were safe. Not always though. In Akobo, and last week in Bor, displaced people inside a UN base were murdered by intruders. The UN believes the Bor attack may have been a war crime.
"Every war has massacres, of course, but South Sudan's own history is full of them. South Sudan's own national narrative is in part constructed through common revulsion at abuses carried out by Arab slave traders, Ottoman officials, brutal British 'pacification' campaigns, and attacks carried out by Sudanese soldiers and allied militias during the two north-south civil wars that preceded South Sudan's independence.
"This historical suffering has had a brutalizing effect. Tragically, many South Sudanese have only known conflict and its ravages throughout their lives … In the period before and immediately after independence, deadly inter-ethnic cattle raids in Jonglei state were one of South Sudan's greatest challenges, a visible manifestation of the weakness of the state, the lack of opportunities for young men and the ethnic fractures in the new nation. Each clash created more grieving relatives, and a greater need for revenge.
"The White Army is now part of Machar's forces and stands accused of some of the worst abuses in Bor and Malakal. South Sudanese are desperate for all this carnage to stop. Yet … many are wearily resigned to violence, numbed by the weight and abundance of past blows."
This underscores the point that the battle that broke out on December 15, 2013, six days before Rooster Flight arrived at Bor, is not a battle that just suddenly showed up on the radar screen. Sudan, and now South Sudan, have been in some kind of a state of war within for decades. This region had seen decades of brutal civil war where an estimated 2.5 million died. By the time South Sudan achieved independence in 2011, it was a shambles of a country, devastated by war and famine. Furthermore, its governing institutions were ridden with corruption, and political instability was rampant within the ruling party. Oil revenues simply exacerbated this instability and corruption.
Our intelligence apparatus should have known that.
The fighting within the presidential guard quickly spread to the city streets of Juba, and Dinka soldiers indiscriminately shot and killed several hundred Nuer men. Thousands of Nuer civilians immediately fled to the UN compound. The fighting spread across the Greater Upper Nile Region, including Unity, Jonglei and Upper Nile states almost overnight.
For our purposes, Jonglei province, whose capital is Bor, saw considerable military confrontation. Fighting there began on December 16, 2013, almost immediately after the trouble began a day earlier in Juba. Many Nuer defected from the national Army. Recall that Rooster flight went to Bor on December 21, 2013. So Rooster flight would arrive in the middle of a huge and violent mess.
So I raise the question as to why US intelligence had failed to see this for what it was. Perhaps it did, and Rooster Flight 73 was sent in anyway. I would like to hear the supporting rationale for that!
A comprehensive peace treaty was signed in 2005 to end Sudan's Second Civil War, a war that had raged from 1983-2005. The question the next day wold have to be, "So what?" It was widely known that the division between the combatants that characterized the Second Civil War were not reconciled just because a peace treaty had been signed. It was patently clear the problems remained. The crisis that had been in train since then continued through all of 2013. The country's army, the old SPLA, and Machar's militia, were each composed of dissimilar collections of people. Local communities fought their own battles with each other. As soon as the civil war erupted on December 15, armed youth from different ethic groups mobilized to counter attacks against their communities and conducted their own reprisals. There were many armed opposition groups, with virtually no unified chain of command. In fact, on any given day, in any given place in South Sudan, one does not know who would be fighting whom, or how many of any of them had changed sides how often etc.
I cannot go into all the details. I commend those to you to study.
The picture days and years before Rooster Flight went to Bor was one of complete chaos, uncontrollable chaos, and unpredictable chaos.
The Army Times reported, “The airmen (from the 8th SOS) were told for weeks that American citizens could be under threat from the rebels and to form rescue plans if they were called into action.” Well, there appears to be cause for wondering how well the crews were briefed. The paper quoted Capt. Rau saying, “Just leading up to our launch, there was a little bit of an uptick in violence.” There was far more than an “uptick in violence.” Mass murders, brutal violence, rapes and thefts of household goods and destruction of homes were the norm. Very violent civil war was in train. It would appear Capt. Rau was not given that information. So one has to ask, why not?
US authorities said they contacted the rebels to advise a US military evacuation mission was coming, and the word that came to the CV-22 detachment at Lemonier was the rebels would be expecting them and the landing zone would be a “permissive environment.” That’s even after some ground force had shot down a helicopter the day before. My first reaction to this is no one on the US side should have believed there was going to be a permissive environment. No one fighting in the country could be trusted. I do not know who the US contacted among the rebels, I do not know who representing the US contacted the rebels and I do not know who conveyed the message to whom about a "permissive environment."
I acknowledge that I was not there. I am not privy to the intelligence. I am not privy to any of the command and control decisions or decision-makers. I understand well that in an emergency, you have to go with what you have that can best do the job, often even when there are shortfalls. Nonetheless, I feel obliged to question why our forces went ahead with this mission as configured, just three Ospreys, 21 SEALs, and two MC-130s, with no ground or airborne reconnaissance before hand and no ground force protection before hand.
Whatever the case, it is my opinion that any prudent military planner would have planned for the very worst. I certainly accept that the Americans had to be evacuated from Juba and Bor. I also agree that to be a military job given these circumstances and the history of the region. The military planners who sent Rooster Flight out to Bor should have assessed that the likelihood for hostile action against those aircraft, crews and passengers would be quite high. Forget all that business about contacting the rebels and receiving assurances of a permissive environment. Poppy-cock.
TSgt. Shea has said that after his lead aircraft was hit and after several passengers had been critically wounded, he went to his single machine gun pointed out the rear of the CV-22 with the ramp down and prepared to fire, such as is shown in this example photo, which happens to show a Marine.
But he said there were so many people down there he could not, fearing, correctly so I am sure, that he would have killed and wounded many innocent people who had sought refuge at the UN compound. This is a photo of some of the civilians at Bor during this time period. There were roughly 10,000 - 14,000 civilians seeking refuge at Bor when Rooster Flight arrived. The planners might not have had a firm number, but surely they would have known there were many, many people civilians there. Those who planned this mission should have expected that.
Given that there would be so many, and given that our forces are trained not to kill civilians, Shea made the right decision not to fire. But in the end, that meant the CV-22s came in defenseless. In my mind, that would mean ground forces would be required, first to screen who was in the crowd and determine whether any had weapons, and then to secure those weapons and capture the people with them. If those with the weapons were to act against the ground force, then the ground force would have no choice but to respond.
I would say in his case we might have considered inserting a lethal ground force a few miles from the compound and instruct it to move in and secure it before the aircraft came in. Rooster Flight 73, given it carried 21 SEALs, might have been better off landing away from the compound to allow the SEALs to check things out. Those are just two options that come to mind.
In the end, there was no ground force, save Indian troops stationed there with the UN. Let's talk about them for a moment. There was a battalion of Indian troops stationed in Jonglei. I do not know how many were at Bor during the period of our interest.
This photo shows two UN Indian soldiers guarding the UN camp at Bor. This does not on the surface look much like a capable force to secure the base.
This is what an attacking force might look like.
We would do well to recall the slow response of UN Indian forces when the US Blackhawks were shot down in Mogadishu — deliberately slow to respond at the very best. Indeed during other attacks at UN compounds in South Sudan during this period the Indian peacekeepers preferred to remain inside the UN compound rather than going "outside the fence." Even then, an estimated 2,000 Nuer forces attacked an UN compound at Akobo, also in Jonglei on December 19. The Nuer attacked, killed over 20 civilians and attacked the 43 Indian peacekeepers there, overwhelming them, seizing their weapons and ammunition, and killing three. The UN peacekeepers abandoned the base while 40 peacekeepers evacuated their base at Yuai the next day. That was two days before Rooster Flight was scheduled in. Surely someone should have known that the UN compounds were not secure, Indian forces or not.
My bias is that UN peacekeepers would be of little value to Rooster Flight. In fact, I personally see the UN peacekeeping program as ineffective during crises and would not depend on UN peacekeepers for anything.
Why was the UN there? Following independence in 2011, the UN Security Council (UNSC) established the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan, known as UNMISS. The UNSC determined that the security situation in the republic was sufficiently tenuous to demand a UN peacekeeping mission. That was in 2011! UNMISS was initially authorized 7,000 military, 900 civilian police, and an appropriate number of civilians. That authorization would rise over time to 12,523 in 2015.
The UNSC authorized UNMISS under Chapter VII of the UN Charter which means the peacekeepers could use lethal force if required. The UNMISS mandate in part authorized it to "deter violence including through proactive deployment and patrols in areas at high risk of conflict, with in its capabilities and in its areas of deployment, protecting civilians under imminent threat of physical violence, in particular when the Government of the Republic of South Sudan is not providing such security."
UNMISS established what it calls “UN House” in Juba in December 2013. UNMISS operated some eight bases in South Sudan, hosting hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese civilians as the civil war continued into 2015. For our purposes here, once violence broke out in December 2013 tensions grew rapidly between the government and UNMISS. The government accused UNMISS of aiding and abetting the anti-government forces. UNMISS had not been able to thwart attacks on UN bases and had not been able to defend the people who sought refuge there.
You will recall I do not know the fight path take by Rooster 73 as he came in to land. But given that Shea saw so many civilians below, I will assume he came in over the compound on his way to land at the parking ramp at the runway outside the compound, roughly an east to west flight path. If Indian peacekeepers were inside the compound, did they apprehend the shooters, or were the shooters outside the compound?
My gut instinct initially was they were outside the compound as I would have thought they could not have brought weapons like they used inside the compound and not be noticed. But on December 19, two days before Rooster came, a mortar shell fell on the UNMSS compound in Bor. On this same day, militia forces attacked Bor city, leaving dead bodies lying in the street, shops and houses were looted and destroyed, and thousands of people fled to the bush or to the UN compound. The Los Angeles Times reported, "The assailants got access to the U.N. compound in Bor on Thursday (December 19, 2013) by pretending to be a peaceful group of protesters who wanted to hand in a petition to the world body. Instead, some of them opened fire on civilians in the camp … U.N. security forces fired warning shots to disperse the mob but they had no effect." At least 12 civilians were killed. So that tells us the militias knew how to get their weapons into a UN compound course, so perhaps they were there. Of course, as he is won't to do, the UN secretary general said this was all unacceptable. Thanks for sharing that with us.
There is a possibility the shooters were attacking the compound at the time Rooster 73 came in, but Rooster Flight said it did a reconnaissance pass at low altitude prior to attempting to land, so certainly the crew would have seen such an attack and broken away. The crew said everything looked fine.
When Rooster Flight started taking fire, one wonders what the peacekeepers did to fend off the attackers, if anything.
I must confess i have a certain amount of contempt for the UN. Let me underscore an example of why.
But almost incredibly, she then criticized the contingent for lacking female soldiers saying, “Having more females in the security forces sends a signal that security is for both women and men.” Loj now is the Special representative and Head of the UNMISS. So putting female soldiers in the contingent was on top of her list of priorities, despite all the killing, rapes, destruction etc.
I guess I have vented my spleen enough. I will gladly listen to those who wish to argue my points or add points about which I did not know or for which I am mistaken. I will publish those immediately.
Clearly the crews and passengers executed their mission as best they could under the circumstances. That is what American military people do. But this flight was ambushed, it had no chance of defending itself, it had no chance of completing its mission successfully, and it was only through extreme valor, courage and the very best in airmanship that all hands made it back alive. God bless the Indian forces located in South Sudan, but they are clearly ill-equipped, undermanned, and without a real mandate to stop the bloodshed.
That is all.