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U.S. to send transport planes to Central African Republic

A Christian man chases a suspected Seleka officer in civilian clothes with a knife near the airport in Bangui, Central African Republic, on Monday. Both Christian and Muslim mobs went on lynching sprees as French Forces deployed in the capital. The Seleka man was taken into custody by French forces who fired warning shots to disperse the crowds. Jerome Delay / AP

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered the U.S. military Monday to transport foreign troops into the Central African Republic to help quell the latest upsurge in violence there. 

Hagel approved the order at the request of the French defense minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

Pentagon spokesman Carl Woog said Hagel directed the U.S. Africa Command to begin transporting forces from neighboring Burundi in coordination with France. 

"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,” Woog said in a statement released Monday.

“We continue to work to identify additional resources that might be available to help address further requests for assistance to support the international community's efforts in CAR."

A 1,600-strong French force was sent to the Central African Republic on Friday after the U.N. Security Council backed a mandate to restore order “by all necessary measures.”

The Central African Republic was plunged into turmoil in March when an alliance of rebels, known as Seleka, seized power and went on a months-long rampage of looting, raping and killing.

The mainly Muslim fighters from the Seleka rebel forces have been disbanded, but their leader Michel Djotodia is now president.

The U.N. resolution came after a surge of deadly attacks by Christian self-defense militias against the Muslim ex-rebels.

The Red Cross says at least 450 people have been killed in the wave of angry sectarian attacks in the capital city of Bangui since Thursday. A Reuters correspondent described seeing bodies piled up in the local hospital’s mortuary and its corridors.

Humanitarian groups on the ground say the death toll only reflected bodies that had been officially counted, they fear the real death toll is significantly higher. 

"We've spoken to a lot of people who have just buried their relatives in the back yard because they couldn't get out or didn't see the point of calling the Red Cross," Joanna Mariner, a crisis expert with Amnesty International in Bangui, told Reuters. 

— NBC News Courtney Kube, Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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