NATO defense ministers agreed Thursday to aid the African Union with logistics and training in an expanded peacekeeping mission in Sudan's war-torn Darfur region. It is the alliance's first mission in Africa.
"All sides have the same aim," says Germany's Struck
Putting a dispute within the alliance behind them, NATO representatives at the Brussels meeting agreed late Wednesday to airlift some 5,000 African Union peacekeepers to the troubled region in western Sudan. The mission, which will be carried out by NATO as well as the European Union, is the first such operation on the African continent.
"As you know, the situation in that region is appalling, and we must do all that is in our power, in coordination with other organizations, starting with the EU, to assist the African Union in its efforts," NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said.
NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer
In a final communiqué on the issue, NATO said "we are committed to implementing speedily our logistical support to the African Union Mission in Sudan in the areas of strategic deployment and self capacity building."
No firm dates have been set for the start of the mission, but officials said they hope to meet the African Union's goal of a July start.
Dispute over alliances
In the run-up to Thursday's announcement, France had objected to a mission under NATO command on the grounds that the European Union was already assisting the African Union in Sudan. France had argued that its offer to transport two battalions of Senegalese troops was made under an EU, not a NATO, banner.
While Washington wanted NATO to coordinate the entire mission, defense chiefs in Brussels were at pains to stress that there was no competition between its mission and that of the EU, and both organizations were working to avoid squabbling over alliances while people continue to die in Darfur.
"I believe that all sides here have the same aim: to help the Sudan," said German Defense Minister Peter Struck. "There is no sense in arguing over competencies, over who should do what. The main thing is that action is taken."
"Who takes the lead in coordinating (the mission) is secondary," he told reporters.
Under the agreement reached by NATO, allies have the option of performing airlift missions either under NATO or the EU's auspices. It is expected that France, Germany and Italy will lend their support through the EU, while the United States would use NATO's military command to conduct its airlift missions.
NATO's coordination with the EU will go through an African Union cell in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, staffed with a small number of EU and NATO officials.
In addition to the air transport, NATO has offered to train African Union troops with an eye to improving command and control of the force.
No NATO troops in Sudan
The African Union, which had ruled out direct involvement of Western troops in Darfur, called on NATO and the EU to provide logistical support for the peacekeeping mission, which aims to put an end to the violence now going into its third year.
Sudan has welcomed NATO's logistics offer, which comes a day before the Darfur peace talks resume, but it has also said it will not accept NATO troops on its soil.