In July 2016, three U.S. Air Force C-130J Hercules cargo planes raced south from Camp Lemonnier in the East African country of Djibouti to help members of the U.S. Embassy in South Sudan evacuate the country. Now, documents we’ve obtained describe a dangerous mission where crews dodged potentially hostile air defenses without appropriate countermeasures, battled aircraft trouble before and during the mission, and rescued two people with life-threatening conditions and dozens more after taking off under hostile fire. These new details stand in contrast to the muted information that was available at the time and offers a window into the complexities and risks inherent to these types of operations.
President Barack Obama himself directed the U.S. military to provide support to the American embassy in the South Sudanese capital Juba amid a worrying spike in violence in the country that had led to dozens of deaths, including a Chinese peacekeeper. The trio of C-130J aircraft assigned to the 75th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron – using the call signs Lion 592, 593, and 594 – subsequently brought in more than 30 special operators, including U.S. Army Special Forces, U.S. Navy SEALs, and at least one Air Force Special Operations Command Joint Terminal Air Controller, along with their equipment. This personnel provided command and control on the ground, local security, and escorted almost 30 American citizens to safety in neighboring Uganda.