Major Andrew Thornton, DSD for services to the New Zealand Defence Force
Major Andrew Thornton served as a Military Liaison Officer with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) from September 2015 to March 2016.
Major Thornton was also appointed Operations Officer in Malakal. During his deployment, 18 UNMISS personnel and 13 logistics contractors on a barge travelling along the Nile were taken hostage by a large South Sudanese rebel group and a team was sent to negotiate their release. Negotiations were conducted in the presence of heavily armed soldiers, and the rebels threatened to shoot down any helicopter that came too close to the site of the negotiations without their clearance. At the conclusion of negotiations an anti-aircraft machine gun fired several rounds at the helicopter sent to evacuate the hostages. Major Thornton was a lead planner for the recovery operation and coordinated the helicopter evacuation. He personally attended the negotiation site and utilised his previous personal relationships with the rebel leadership to support the United Nations negotiators in securing the release of the hostages. Major Thornton’s leadership and local knowledge were key to the success of the recovery operation, particularly given the limited capacity of local government agencies to execute such an operation, and the mistrust that existed between the South Sudanese parties involved and the United Nations.