EU Must Let NATO Halt Darfur's Nightly Terror
EU Must Let NATO Halt Darfur's Nightly Terror
After Six Months of War, Sudan is Disintegrating
After Six Months of War, Sudan is Disintegrating
Op-Ed / Africa 3 minutes

EU Must Let NATO Halt Darfur's Nightly Terror

In the refugee camps here in Eastern Chad, the hundreds of thousands who have made it over the border from Sudan manage to get by from day to day in the punishing heat.

Their situation is grim, but these people could be considered the lucky ones. At least they are generally safe at night.

That is more than can be said for the nearly two million people displaced internally within Darfur. In and around their encampments, insecurity is pervasive: beatings, rape and murder are common outside these camps and armed men often enter at night to harass and intimidate this already traumatised population. The victims wait in vain for someone to protect them.

While the international community has consistently recognised that the lack of civilian protection is the root cause of the appalling humanitarian situation in Darfur, its efforts to protect the region's citizens remain woefully inadequate in the face of more than 200,000 civilian deaths and millions forcibly expelled from their homes.

The primary international response has been to back the African Union's (AU) efforts to improve security. But the AU Mission in Sudan (AMIS) remains hamstrung by critical inadequacies: a weak mandate and insufficient force strength and operational capacity. Until these are addressed, civilian protection will be impossible.

First and foremost, the AU must immediately strengthen AMIS's mandate. The current mandate focuses on monitoring and verification of a series of flimsy ceasefire agreements, leaving to the Sudanese government the responsibility for neutralising the Janjaweed militias that prey on civilians. Continued Janjaweed attacks and Khartoum's consistent failure to neutralise them represent the greatest danger to the people of Darfur.

The new mandate must both enable and encourage the international force to undertake all necessary measures, including offensive action, against any attacks or threats against civilian populations and humanitarian operations. Such action must be taken against both those militias operating with the government and those opposed to it. Without a stronger mandate, no international force, regardless of size, can have a significant impact on improving security for civilians.

But size does matter, as well. AMIS currently has less than 3,000 personnel on the ground in Darfur. That number is set to rise to 7,731 by September, and there is a proposal to increase it to 12,300 by April 2006. But such targets - even if they could be met, which seems increasingly unlikely - are far too little, too late. Vulnerable civilians need protection now, not next year.

The international community must work with the AU to increase the force strength to at least 12,000 immediately. This is the minimum number of troops required to fulfil the mission requirements of a strengthened mandate.

The AU has already requested assistance from NATO and the EU to help boost its strength and capacity. NATO is focusing on strategic airlift, while the EU is providing military planning and support to civilian policing of the camps. But even with such outside help, it remains highly unlikely that AU member states can deploy the necessary additional troops in a short enough time-frame. No individual African country seems to have sufficient troops now available and any multinational operation is hindered by familiar problems of interoperability, command and control and logistic support.

If this remains the case, the international community must step in to meet its responsibility to protect civilians in Darfur. NATO must be prepared to deploy a multinational 'bridging force' to fill in the gaps while AMIS continues to deploy. Although some may not like to hear it, NATO is the only institution currently capable of placing a sizeable, well- equipped, multinational force at short notice.

NATO, specifically the NATO Response Force, should be able to deliver the additional troops required in less than 30 days from the time a political decision is made to deploy.

French military bases in Eastern Chad will be vital to a NATO mission in Darfur and Paris's view that Africa is the EU's responsibility clearly poses problems for NATO deployment. But political sensitivities should not obscure operational realities. A handful of individual EU countries might be able to put 5,000 or more fully trained and equipped troops on the ground at short notice, but not the EU as such. The EU's mission control capability is currently much less than NATO's and the planned EU battlegroups (which will be 1,500-strong) are not expected to be fully operational until 2007.

But if the international community is to provide the immediate civilian protection the people of Darfur desperately need - if this waiting game is to end - then, however difficult this might be for many to accept both elsewhere in Europe and beyond, NATO must lead the way.

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