Sudan: Sorry Tale of Darfur's Helicopters

13 February 2009

More than a year after the deployment of the joint African Union-United Nations peacekeeping force in Darfur (UNAMID), the UN is still begging the international community for the helicopters the peacekeepers need to do their jobs.

In an interview ahead of UNAMID's deployment, its commander, General Martin L. Agwai of Nigeria, said he needed a minimum of 18 utility helicopters to carry out his mission successfully.

Speaking in November 2007,  Agwai told AllAfrica:  "As of today, there is no country in the world that has volunteered to give us that capability - zero."

Nine months later, Agwai's force still had no helicopters. In response, an international coalition of activists published a report assessing which countries had the type of machine needed for Darfur.

The report concluded that  six countries were best placed to supply the mission. It said that, between them, India, Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Italy, Romania and Spain could provide 70 helicopters.

The report added that 14 nations in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) could come up with a total of 104 helicopters: among the bigger contributors, Italy might be able to supply 13, the Ukraine 14 and the United States 30.

This week, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reported to the UN Security Council that UNAMID's strength had grown to 12,541 military personnel, representing 64 percent of the 19,555 mandated by the UN.

But with violence escalating in Darfur, he said the impact of the extra peacekeepers had been limited by "logistical constraints." Among them: the continued absence of the 18 medium utility helicopters the mission needed.

"The provision of outstanding equipment, in particular military helicopter assets, remains critical to increasing the mobility and operational impact of the mission," Ban told the Security Council. "I reiterate my appeal to member states who are in a position to provide these mission-critical capabilities to do so without further delay."

Ban did note what he called a "welcome development" - one country had offered tactical helicopters. The country? Ethiopia. The number of helicopters? Five.

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