A land of futility: U.N. helicopter loss underscores South Sudan mess

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The shooting down last Friday of a United Nations peacekeeping helicopter in South Sudan by that country's armed forces is a clear indication of the futility of the considerable U.S. military and assistance involvement there. Four U.N. troops died.

South Sudan became independent from Sudan in the summer of 2011. It is slightly smaller than Texas, with a population of 9 million, landlocked, with borders on the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda. Fighting there resumed shortly after independence, pitting by now at least seven armed groups against the forces of the central government in Juba. South Sudan depends on oil and agriculture for income, although its oil production is in turmoil because of unresolved differences with the Sudanese government in Khartoum.

The fighting in South Sudan is based largely on differences among its some 64 different tribes. Some of the conflict is sponsored by the Khartoum government but most of it is internally based. The U.N. helicopter was shot down over an area where the forces of a rebel militia leader, David Yau Yau, are fighting the Juba government.

The U.N. mission to South Sudan numbers nearly 10,000, including more than 7,000 troops. America also has forces there. As is standard practice, 27 percent of U.N. peacekeeping costs in South Sudan are borne by the United States. The U.N. mission's budget stands at $876 million.

In addition, America has provided some $248 million in other aid to South Sudan since its independence last year. U.S. military aid has included support of the South Sudanese armed forces which shot down the helicopter. One of its goals has been to catch and defeat the infamous Lord's Resistance Army, led by Joseph Kony, known for its violence and use of child soldiers. That effort has been unsuccessful to date, due largely to U.S. inexperience in operating in Central Africa.

It is hard to find logic in U.S. involvement in South Sudan at a time when money at home is short and may become even shorter in 2013. The downing of the U.N. helicopter and the deaths of four U.N. peacekeepers, Russian by nationality, could become the last straw in U.S. efforts to save South Sudan from largely self-inflicted chaos.

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