In this photo taken Saturday, Jan. 7, 2012 and released by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), the burned village of Fertait is seen from the air, in Jonglei State, eastern South Sudan, (Photo: AP).
President Barack Obama is sending five American military officers to South Sudan amid recent outbreaks of violence in the newly independent African nation.
The White House said the US forces will join the United Nations mission in the capital of Juba and focus on strategic planning and operations. They are not expected to engage in combat operations, but will be armed for personal protection.
Obama issued a memorandum Tuesday declaring that the US officers could not be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court during their deployment because South Sudan is not a party to the ICC. The White House said prior administrations used similar designations when sending US forces to United Nations missions in Haiti and Liberia.
The first of the small group of US forces is expected to depart for South Sudan later this week. The Pentagon said there were no plans to expand the US contribution to the UN mission.
Since gaining independence in July, South Sudan has been beset by internal conflict. Aid groups estimate that 60,000 people have been affected by recent outbreaks of violence, and the UN says tens of thousands have fled their homes and are in urgent need of high-nutritional food, clean water, health care and shelter.
Violence also has simmered on the new border with Sudan. The two countries have not yet agreed to terms to share the region's oil wealth.
In response to the violence, Obama issued a separate memorandum last week giving the US the ability to send weapons and defense assistance to South Sudan.
The US strongly supported South Sudan's drive for independence and sought to boost the fledgling nation, in part through agriculture assistance and private investment. The Obama administration also has authorized American investment in South Sudan's oil sector.
Israel also showed a drive to invest in South Sudan. According to Israel Radio, numerous Israeli companies have started infrastructure development projects in South Sudan.
The Isaeli foreign ministry had announced Tuesday the appointment of a non-resident ambassador – Haim Koren – to South Sudan. Haim is an academic expert in South Sudanese affairs.
South Sudanese president Salva Kiir held talks with Israeli officials in December discussing expanding cooperation between both countries.