Central African Republic unrest

Troops conduct a disarmament operation Monday in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic. (Sia Kambou / AFP/ Getty Images / December 9, 2013)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. military will fly about 850 African Union troops to the Central African Republic this week to assist French soldiers trying to quell street battles by rival militias in the country’s capital, the Pentagon announced Monday.

Two U.S. Air Force C-17 cargo planes will ferry the troops and their equipment from Bujumbura, capital of Burundi, to Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic, a landlocked former French colony. The airlift operation is scheduled to begin by Tuesday and last until the end of the week.

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian asked for U.S. help in a telephone conversation Sunday with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who is a trip to the Middle East and South Asia, the Pentagon said in a statement.

“France has requested airlift support to enable African forces to deploy promptly to prevent the further spread of sectarian violence in the Central African Republic,” the statement said.

The United Nations Security Council voted last week to authorize France and the African Union to send forces to Bangui to protect civilians. The African Union has pledged as many as 3,500 troops but the limited airlift capabilities of its members has delayed their arrival.

Maj. Robert A. Firman, a Pentagon spokesman, said a small number of U.S. military personnel will be required on the ground in Bangui to service the C-17s, but none will remain after the flights are completed, Firman said.

He added that it’s “conceivable” that France could ask for more U.S. help to stop the violence.

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