Mission supports U.N.-African Union peacekeepers
Washington (RushPRnews) 01/18/09â€” The U.S. Air Force has begun airlifting Rwandan peacekeeping equipment and supplies from Kigali to the Darfur region of Sudan as part of the U.N.-African Union peacekeeping mission.
Two airlift missions were completed January 14, the U.S. Africa Command headquarters said in an announcement. The two C-17 air cargo planes were from Travis Air Force Base, California.
The aircraft each carried about 30 tons of materiel. In all, the Air Force will transport more than 150 tons of equipment and supplies, including nine oversized vehicles, water purification systems, water trailers, tents and spare parts.
â€œThis equipment is essential to the successful completion of our mission in Darfur,â€ said Major Jill Rutaremara, spokeswoman for the Rwandan Defence Forces (RDF). â€œIt will assist us in whatever we do there and improve the quality of life for our soldiers deployed to Darfur.â€
Rwanda has four battalions of peacekeepers in Darfur, totaling 2,566 personnel, with a goal of increasing the peacekeeping force to 3,200, Rutaremara said. The Rwandan peacekeepers are assigned to the hybrid United Nations-African Union mission in Darfur, known as UNAMID.
The decision to airlift the equipment was announced January 5 by President Bush as part of U.S. support for international peacekeeping efforts in Darfur.
Since 2003, conflict in the Darfur region of western Sudan has displaced an estimated 2.5 million people and led to an estimated 300,000 deaths, according to the United Nations. Since 2004, the United States has spent more than $15 million to airlift 11,400 peacekeepers and their equipment to and from Darfur and has provided more than $100 million to train and equip those forces, according to a White House fact sheet. Much of this support is coordinated through the State Department.
â€œI have provided a waiver to the State Department so they can begin to move 240 containers worth of heavy equipment into Darfur, and â€¦ the Defense Department will be flying Rwandan equipment into Darfur to help facilitate the peacekeeping missions there,â€ Bush said. The containers are being transported under a separate contract by the State Department.
The military portion of the airlift is the first major mission planned by Air Forces Africa (also known as Seventeenth Air Force), the air component under Africa Command. Air Forces Africa is headquartered at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.
â€œThis was a complicated project that ultimately took several months of interagency and interdepartmental coordination and planning,â€ said Major Greg Lococo, chief of operational planning for Air Forces Africa.
The 722nd Expeditionary Air Base Squadron, under Air Forces Africa, was responsible for working with the RDF to prepare the vehicles and equipment for the deployment, moving cargo on airfields and taking care of the logistical details. The squadron includes specialists from the 615th Contingency Response Wing based at Travis and Africa Command in Stuttgart, Germany.
â€œWe’ve been impressed by the professionalism of the Rwandans,â€ said Major Sang Kim, the squadron commander.
The effort is the first large-scale peacekeeper-support mission for Africa Command since it was formally activated October 1, 2008. Previous missions in support of peacekeeping in Darfur were conducted under the direction of U.S. European Command, which had responsibility for U.S. activities in Africa before the activation of Africa Command.
â€œThe U.S. military has been working with African nations for years,â€ said Vince Crawley, a spokesman for Africa Command. â€œThe command wants to add value to what the U.S. military has been doing. That is helping African partners develop their security capabilities in order to promote security and stability throughout the continent.â€