Operation Autumn Return
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A coup d'état against President Henri Konan Bédié on Christmas Eve 1999 led to the installation of military junta leader General Robert Guéï as president. Guéï lost the presidency in October 2000 elections to Laurent Gbagbo of the Ivorian Popular Front. Guéï refused to relinquish power, leading to street protests and Guéï's flight to Gouessesso near the border with Liberian. Guéï retained some political power and was included in a reconciliation forum in 2001, in which he agreed to refrain from undemocratic methods. Guéï withdrew from the forum agreement in September 2002 and on September 19, 2002, the Ivorian Civil War began. Guéï, his wife, and several members of his family, as well as interior minister Émile Boga Doudou, were killed under unclear circumstances that day.
The ensuing crisis threatened the safety of hundreds of foreign nations, including U.S. citizens. The Ambassador to Côte d'Ivoire, Arlene Render, requested an evacuation of American citizens. From September 24 to October 4, 2002, United States European Command (USEUCOM) directed the evacuation of over 300 U.S. and third-party citizens. This was done mainly by U.S. special forces units, including the 352d Special Operations Group.
One notable evacuation occurred at the International Christian Academy at Bouaké, a Christian boarding school attended mainly by children of American missionaries. After rebel and government forces exchanged heavy gunfire and mortar shelling in the vicinity of the school, French Armed Forces troops - having earlier secured an airport about 40 miles away from the school - secured the school and escorted about 160 children (including 101 Americans ages 6 to 18), as well as 39 other people (including staff and their children, including some infants) 60 miles south to the capital of Yamoussoukro via a convoy of cars, trucks, and minibuses and traveled to Yamoussoukro. The refugees arrived safely late September 25 at a reception center in Yamoussoukro that officials at the U.S. embassy (based at Abidjan, the county's administrative center) has set up.