WASHINGTON: The US military will help fly African Union peacekeeping troops to the Central African Republic as part of a French-led effort to restore security there, US officials said Monday.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who was in Qatar on a tour of the region, has ordered American forces "to begin transporting forces from Burundi to the Central African Republic, in coordination with France," his spokesman said in a statement.
Hagel took the decision after conferring by phone on Sunday with French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who requested "limited" US military assistance to support the international effort, spokesman Carl Woog said.
"In the near term, 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," he said.
"The United States is joining the international community in this effort because of our belief that immediate action is required to avert a humanitarian and human rights catastrophe in the Central African Republic, and because of our interest in peace and security in the region."
The United States would look to possibly provide "additional resources" if needed, the statement said, without offering details.
The move came as French troops on Monday started disarming fighters in the country after a spike in sectarian violence that claimed hundreds of lives.
In addition to the French contingent on the ground, the African Union plans to bolster a regional force to 6,000 troops from a planned 3,600.
The Pentagon offered similar assistance during the French intervention in Mali, providing cargo aircraft and sharing intelligence with their allies.