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Africa Command to Airlift Peacekeeper Equipment to Darfur

Donna Miles, American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 6, 2009 –

U.S. Africa Command is laying plans to airlift heavy equipment to Sudan to support African Union and U.N. peacekeepers involved in the country’s Darfur region, an Africom spokesman told American Forces Press Service today.

Africom will transport about 75 tons of heavy equipment -- water tankers, fuel tank trucks, forklifts and other oversized cargo – from Kigali, Rwanda, to Darfur aboard two C-17 Globemaster III aircraft, Vince Crawley said.

President George W. Bush announced the decision yesterday after meeting at the White House with Sudanese First Vice President Salva Kiir, a former south Sudanese rebel leader.

“I have provided a waiver to the State Department so they can begin to move 240 containers worth of heavy equipment into Darfur, and that the Defense Department will be flying Rwandan equipment into Darfur to help facilitate the peacekeeping missions there," Bush said.

Bush sent a Jan. 1 memo to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice authorizing the airlift mission without reimbursement from the United Nations. He called the mission “important to the security interests of the United States.”

The president also waived the standard 15-day congressional notification requirements to allow the State Department-led airlift assistance to proceed immediately, “because failing to do so would pose a substantial risk to human health and welfare,” National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley said in a statement released yesterday.

Hadley said the mission will help African Union and U.N. peacekeepers protect civilian lives and improve the safe and effective delivery of lifesaving humanitarian aid to areas of western Darfur currently inaccessible due to security concerns.

The exact date of the missions has not been determined, but Crawley said he expects them to take place “within the next several weeks.” Africom, like U.S. Central Command, has no aircraft of its own, so the C-17s will come from another command, he said.

Crawley noted that the U.S. military has provided peacekeeper training in Africa for more than a decade and first transported troops and cargo in support of the mission in Darfur in 2004. The last mission, the fourth, was in October 2007.

The upcoming airlift mission represents the first large-scale peacekeeper support mission for Africom since it became fully operational Oct. 1. Previous support missions were conducted under the direction of U.S. European Command, which had responsibility for Africa before Africom’s standup.

“The U.S. military has been working in Africa for a number of years now,” Crawley said. “Africom wants to add value to what the U.S. military has been doing.”

Africom plans to incorporate its new ADAPT – Africa Deployment Assistance Phased Training – initiative into the mission, Crawley said. This effort aims to teach militaries the logistical skills required to deploy in support of peacekeeping missions. The ADAPT initiative was first used last summer in transporting peacekeepers into Somalia from Uganda, he said.

By taking over and building on missions such as peacekeeper support in Darfur, Africom officials hope to “help Africans build the long-term security capacity that they are eager to have,” Crawley said.

Hadley said the United States will continue working closely with the U.N. to ensure peacekeepers not only are deployed, but also are trained and equipped to carry out their mandate.

"The United States will continue to lead the international community to stand by the people of Darfur and to deploy and support the U.N. peacekeeping operation," he said.

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