Airlift Support for Darfur Continues Strong as Rice Visits Region
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 21, 2005 Airlift operations continue at a steady clip as the members of the 86th Aerospace Expeditionary Group work to rotate the first of two brigades of Rwandan troops into the war-torn Darfur region of Sudan, the group commander told the American Forces Press Service today.
Rwandan forces standby to board a U.S. Air Force C-130 at Kigali International Airport, Rwanda, July 19. The U.S. airlift of Rwandan servicemembers is part of the larger multinational effort to improve security and create conditions in which humanitarian assistance can be more effectively provided to the people of Darfur. Photo by Sgt. Bradley Church, USAF
(Click photo for screen-resolution image)
Air Force Col. Scott Schafer, commander of the 86th AEG at Kigali International Airport, Rwanda, said the operation is proceeding "just as planned and on schedule."
Schafer made his assessment as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in Sudan today, said she found it "heartening" to see the U.S. airlift operation but wants the rest of the international community to step in and do more.
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer announced June 9 that the alliance would help the African Union expand its peacekeeping force in Darfur from 3,300 to about 7,700 in the coming months.
President Bush authorized $6 million more in emergency spending for the effort, and U.S. European Command began deploying airmen and equipment to Kigali to provide airlift and logistical support July 14.
So far, the U.S. airmen have transported 330 members of the Rwandan Defense Forces from Kigali airport to Al Fashar, Sudan. They expect to finish transporting the rest of the battalion by July 29 before returning to their home base at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Schafer explained.
U.S. Transportation Command is arranging transportation for the second Rwandan battalion by contract carrier, Schafer said, with the 86th AEG leaving only a small contingent on the ground to provide support and oversee load operations. The airlift operation is expected to wrap up by mid-August.
While the airlift mission is typical for the 86th AEG, Schafer said conducting it from a remote site rather than a fixed base creates unique challenges. Seven tents in a corner of the Kigali airport provide the group's communications, planning and command-and-control center, which Schafer boasted was up and running within seven hours after the unit arrived from Germany on July 14.
Schafer described the airmen supporting the mission as "150 professionals who are experts in what they do."
"They're self-motivated ... and they know what they came here to do, and they're proud to be a part this mission," he said.
The commander had special praise for the group's aircraft maintainers, whom he called the key to keeping the mission on track and on schedule. "They're doing an outstanding job," he said.
Schafer said he's been "very impressed" by the professionalism and discipline of the Rwandan troops he's met and called the opportunity to work with them "rewarding for everybody."
Providing these Rwandan peacekeepers the airlift support they need into Darfur brings the airmen involved special gratification, Schafer said. In Al Fashar, the Rwandans and other African Union troops will conduct security operations critical for humanitarian support to take place.
"They're proud to be providing airlift so these peacekeepers can provide security so the humanitarian effort can take place," Schafer said.
Rice said during her visit to Sudan today she believes the Africans can solve the problems in Darfur themselves, but need more support from the international community to do so. "We need to keep a spotlight on Darfur, and we need to work this issue every single day in our capitals and in international councils," she said during an interview at Abu Shouk Camp in Al Fashar.
"The United States cares about what happens to these people (and) recognizes that this is one of the truly humanitarian difficulties and disasters in the world at this time," the secretary said. So far, the country has spent almost $700 million "to try to make the humanitarian situation better with food aid and with health care and for education for these dear children," she said.
"But ... it takes an international effort," Rice said. "This is not just something that the United States can do, and we can't be slow to react."