NATO to Assist African Union With Airlift in Darfur
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
BRUSSELS, Belgium, June 9, 2005 NATO will support the African Union with airlift support into the war-torn region of Darfur, Sudan, alliance officials announced here June 8.
Ethnic violence between Arabs and black Africans has left an estimated 180,000 dead and 2 million more homeless in the area, and the African Union is working to send in a peacekeeping force.
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer called the situation in Darfur "appalling." NATO must do all it can to assist, he said today during opening remarks at a meeting of the North Atlantic Council at NATO headquarters here. NATO defense ministers, including U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, are attending the meeting.
Details are still being worked out, but NATO and U.S. officials said the NATO portion of airlift support will be coordinated through the Supreme Allied Headquarters Europe, in Belgium. The European Union also will work to coordinate airlift support through existing mechanisms at Einhoffen, Netherlands.
"We knew this was an area in which NATO had considerable experience and capability, and we today decided on an arrangement that'll take advantage of that," a senior NATO diplomat said June 8.
The diplomat noted the AU had made no request for troops for a quick-reaction force.
This marks the first time NATO has deployed forces into Africa. The diplomat said it's significant for several reasons.
"We think, given the common security issues of the 26 allies in NATO and the proximity of Africa and the security implications of developments of Africa, it makes sense for NATO to be interested in what happens in Africa," he said.
Another topic of discussion at the NATO ministerial meeting is sure to be the expansion of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
A senior U.S. defense official said June 8 that NATO is working to expand the ISAF into more of Afghanistan and is working to take over more of the provincial reconstruction teams at work there. In the past week the U.S. transferred leadership of two PRTs to ISAF, the official said.
NATO also is working to provide increased security in Afghanistan during parliamentary elections scheduled for September.
"Some issues require further political decisions in capitals and so forth, but things are looking as though we're going to be in a position to provide the kind of support that we did during the presidential elections once again this time, even though it's going to be on a larger scale," the NATO diplomat said.
NATO is planning to send three battalions from three different countries to support the elections, but no announcement has been made on which countries. The United States is planning to send an infantry company to round out one of the battalions, the defense official said.