A Plan for Darfur

In the last presidential race, my friend Barry Gordon and I found much to like in retired General Wesley Clark. He continues his work — as a loyal Democrat, a good American, and a decent human being — with such initiatives as the following, a commentary he delivered this morning on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition about the continuing genocide (primarily by starvation) of tens of thousands of people in the western region of Sudan known as Darfur:

After a series of UN Security Council resolutions on Darfur and a donors conference to boost the African Union Mission there, you could be forgiven for thinking the international community has responded adequately to the crisis. Sadly, this is far from the case. The international community urgently needs to take bold new action.

The truth is, civilians are still targeted in Darfur. The pro-government Janjaweed militias still remain unchecked. Humanitarian access is still restricted along key transit routes and in areas where millions of displaced Sudanese have gathered. Women and girls are still being raped as they leave their camps to collect firewood and forage for food. It’s a tragedy.

The African Union’s priority must be to protect civilians. It must be able to take all necessary measures — including offensive action — against any attacks or threats against civilians and humanitarian operations.

But the AU Mission’s force numbers and mandate are simply not sufficient to cope with the reality on the ground in Darfur. The AU current plan is to deploy 7,700 troops next month, and possibly 12,000 troops next year. But this is far too slow. A minimum of 12,000 troops are needed on the ground right now, not six months from now.

The African Union should deploy a battalion task force of around 1,000 troops to each of Darfur’s eight sectors and maintain another battalion task force in reserve. Each sector would then have close to 1,000 troops, twice as many civilian police, and 1,000 headquarters and other support staff.

Even if the African Union can overcome the political obstacles to strengthening its mandate in Darfur — and that’s a very big “if” — it’s in no position to get such large numbers of troops on the ground in such a short time. Despite the European Union and NATO assistance, the African Union mission looks set to fall short of its target of 7,700 troops by September.

The UN Security Council, in consultation with the AU, should request and authorize NATO to deploy a multinational “bridging force” to bring the combined force level in Darfur immediately up to 12,000 to 15,000 troops while the African Union prepares and deploys its own forces.

This is not an easy recommendation to make for Darfur, where all multinational organizations have been at pains to keep non-African troops out of Sudan. But the notion that the atrocities in Darfur are solely African problems requiring exclusively African solutions has to be reconsidered. These ongoing offenses are crimes against all humanity. They demand an international response that gives human life priority over diplomatic sensitivities.

Working together, NATO and the AU can save the lives of tens of thousands of innocent civilians. They can demonstrate to outlaw regimes like the government of Sudan that the international community will not tolerate crimes against humanity.

And we must do this now.

Whether you happen to agree with this solution proposed by Gen. Clark or not, it is an issue that needs to be discussed and acted upon, lest the genocidal shame of inaction in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia be repeated.

Attention on this on-going tragedy was swept aside by the tsunami disaster; and as I see it, our mis-adventure in Iraq has made things even more difficult in at least two ways: Our forces are, of course, stretched to the limit; and the entire idea of military intervention to solve a real-world problem is much more distasteful now because of the bad experience we are having in Iraq, trying to solve a problem that really didn’t exist for us in the first place.

And of course, there is no oil in Darfur.

Doug Drenkow

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