The White House says it has deployed 47 extra troops to South Sudan to protect its citizens and the US embassy after an outbreak of deadly violence in the country.
“Although equipped for combat, these additional personnel are deployed for the purpose of protecting US citizens and property,” President Barack Obama wrote in a letter to Congress released by the White House.
“These deployed personnel will remain in South Sudan until the security situation becomes such that their presence is no longer needed.”
The combat-ready troops arrived in South Sudan on Tuesday. An additional 130 military personnel currently in Djibouti are also prepared to provide support as necessary, the White House said.
The UN Security Council urged an immediate end to the fighting on Tuesday between the forces of President Silva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar to prevent the spread of violence.
It warned of fresh fighting after days of deadly gun battles that have sent thousands fleeing and sparked the evacuation of foreign nationals.
A fragile ceasefire appeared to be holding in the capital Juba, but the situation remains precarious, UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told the Security Council.
“We remain very worried about the potential for the resumption of violence and spill-over into other parts of the country, as we have seen in the past,” he said.
Germany and Italy said they were evacuating their nationals and other foreigners, although commercial flights were not expected to resume until Thursday.
Around 200 people, including the hundred or so Germans living in South Sudan, were evacuated to Uganda by the German air force, the foreign ministry in Berlin said.
Residents from Australia, Britain, France, the United States, Poland and elsewhere were also on the German flights, as well as three Chinese UN peacekeepers.
While US troops will not have a combat role, their presence will not go unnoticed by rival factions.
South Sudan, shepherded into existence by US cash and diplomacy in 2011, has faltered badly in its infancy, and the Obama administration has been accused of abandoning the fragile nation.
Multiple agreements and ceasefires have failed, leaving violence and human rights atrocities unchecked.
Residents fear violence could lead to return to civil war
At least 272 people have been killed in the latest spasm of violence, and at least 42,000 people have fled their homes.
The council’s 15 members demanded both sides to “genuinely commit themselves to the full and immediate implementation of the peace agreement, including the permanent ceasefire and redeployment of military forces from Juba”.
It has always been a very fragile peace between Mr Kiir and Mr Machar, as the two men have never trusted each other.
An August 2015 agreement paved the way for Mr Machar’s return to the capital after being accused of plotting a coup, taking up the deputy post again in a so-called unity government.
Soldiers are now patrolling the capital, telling residents it is again safe to go outside.
But Juba resident and journalist with the agency Voice of America, Tito Justin, told the ABC that food was scarce and the scene confronting many looted businesses was devastating.
Many people fear that the violence would see the collapse of past peace deals and a return to civil war.
“The situation in South Sudan is extremely dire and serious and that cannot be overstated,” said Frederick McCray Jr of CARE International South Sudan.
“Right now you’re seeing the peace process collapse, and so I think it’s really going to take pressure from the international community to hold both sides of the conflict accountable so that South Sudan can get back on the track to peace and development.”