Here’s Kevin Knodell with the second part of his Central Africa backgrounder:
In the wake of the Haskanita raid that killed 10 soldiers in late 2007, peacekeepers in Darfur were driven near the brink. These under-paid, and under-equipped troops were accused of failing in their mission. However, these proud soldiers insist that this was not the case.
In January, the A.U. peacekeeping force in Darfur, AMIS, officially became the United Nations/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID). The African soldiers, in a special ceremony, took off their green A.U. berets and put on new blue U.N. berets, but kept their A.U. armbands. This was the beginning of the U.N.’s first “hybrid” peacekeeping force. Given a new mandate (authorizing the use of force to protect civilians from harm), and given a renewed since of mission, UNAMID set out to make a footprint.
UNAMID benefits from incredibly capable leadership. The force commander is Nigerian General Martin Luther Agwai, a veteran of Sierra Leone and a member of the American National Defense University’s hall of fame. Its DJSR is Major-General (Ret.) Henry Anyidoho of Ghana. Anyidoho has served in Lebanon, Liberia, Cambodia, and most notably as Deputy Force Commander to General Romeo Dallaire in Rwanda, where his troops helped protect Tutsis and Hutu moderates seeking shelter in U.N. compounds.
UNAMID, like most peacekeeping forces, includes both military and civilian police personnel. General Agwai’s basic plan to use UNPOL to help maintain order within the chaotic refugee centers and train Sudanese police, and to use his military personnel to conduct patrols and provide protection for refugees and aid workers. He would like to station some of his men in refugee camps full time to provide 24-hour security.
Unfortunately a continued lack of manpower, firepower, and equipment is making these goals hard to accomplish. One African officer wryly observed that as of now, UNAMID is little more than AMIS with blue helmets. Despite lip service to the need to support the mission in Sudan, few nations have stepped forward to send troops or equipment. A sadly ironic illustration of this is that many of the peacekeepers had to purchase paint themselves to turn their green A.U. helmets to blue U.N. ones.
However, despite these hardships, UNAMIDs military leaders and troops have taken the initiative, and are attempting to punch above their weight. They have begun conducting night patrols, despite the fact that most of their troops lack night vision goggles or flashlights. Relying on the headlights of there pickups, they are pressing on to bring hope to refugees huddled in the dark. Though they know that these operations have little tactical value, it sends a strong message to the warring factions, and to the people of Darfur.
One of UNAMID’s biggest challenges is the continued non-compliance and interference from all parties. Non-African troops are frequently blocked by Khartoum, most recently those from Thailand and Nepal. Also, UNAMID’s Chief of Staff, a respected British officer with peacekeeping experience in Bosnia was kicked out. UNAMID troops have also had to deal with skirmishes and harassment from Sudanese troops, rebels, and from roaming bandits who prey on aid convoys. The rebels, who have overtime fractured into countless factions, are almost impossible to hold negotiations with as they are constantly splitting and having internal disputes. Also of concern is Osama bin Laden’s call for a jihad against U.N. peacekeepers.
UNAMID’s wildcard is China. China has longstanding trade ties with Sudan, including arms shipments. China has in the past acted on Khartoum’s behalf, stymieing efforts for a peacekeeping force. However, China seems to be increasingly impatient with the bad press the Sudanese government has been attracting, and has slowly begun putting pressure on Sudan. The PLA has contributed engineers to the mission, which will help build new bases for incoming troops.
This strategy puts China into quite a debacle, that makes one think of events happening in another Horn of Africa country. However, China is in a unique position to utilize its ties to the to pressure the Sudanese government to let in troops that UNAMID desperately needs.
Many critics have already written off UNAMID as a failed mission, insisting that the peacekeepers have continued to fail. However, UNAMID is operating at less than 50% capacity and without helicopters. General Agwai responded to critics in a recently published op-ed in which he explains the challenges of peacekeeping and illustrates his case with numerous historical examples.
The conflict in Darfur continues to be an area of major debate. As celebrities continue to speak out on the issue and demand action, the efforts of soldiers and police on the ground now remain largely ignored and unsupported.
(Photo: U.N. Dispatch)