Air Force Begins Airlift of Peacekeeping Equipment to Darfur

By Eric Elliot
Special to American Forces Press Service

KIGALI, Rwanda, Jan. 14, 2009 - The Air Force has begun airlifting Rwandan peacekeeping equipment and supplies from here to Sudan's Darfur region as part of a United Nations-African Union peacekeeping mission.

The first mission was completed today by the "Spirit of The Golden Gate," a C-17 Globemaster III transport jet deployed to Africa from Travis Air Force Base, Calif. Another Travis-based C-17 flew a second mission.

Each aircraft carried about 30 tons of cargo. 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.

"This equipment is essential to the successful completion of our mission in Darfur," Maj. Jill Rutaramara, spokesman for the Rwandan Defense Forces, said. "It will assist us in whatever we do there and improve the quality of life for our soldiers deployed to Darfur."

Rwanda has four battalions of peacekeepers in Darfur, totaling 2,566 personnel, with a goal of increasing the peacekeeping force to 3,200, Ruteramara said. The Rwandan peacekeepers are assigned to the hybrid United Nations-African Union mission in Darfur, known as UNAMID.

President George W. Bush announced the decision to airlift the equipment Jan. 5 as part of the U.S. government's ongoing 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 United Nations statistics. 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.

"I have provided a waiver to the State Department so they can begin to move 240 containers worth of heavy equipment into Darfur, and that the Defense Department will be flying Rwandan equipment into Darfur to help facilitate the peacekeeping missions there," Bush said. The State Department is transporting the 240 containers under a separate contract.

The military portion of the airlift is the first major mission planned by Air Forces Africa, U.S. Africa Command's air component. Air Forces Africa also is U.S. Air Forces in Europe's 17th Air Force, with headquarters at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

"This was a complicated project that ultimately took several months of interagency and interdepartmental coordination and planning," Maj. Greg Lococo, chief of operational planning for Air Forces Africa, said.

Air Forces Africa's 722nd Expeditionary Air Base Squadron was responsible for working with the Rwandan Defense Forces to prepare the vehicles and equipment for the deployment, conducting airfield operations focusing on cargo movement as well as ironing out the logistical details associated with the mission. The squadron includes specialists from the 615th Contingency Response Wing based at Travis, and U.S. Africa Command in Stuttgart, Germany.

"We've been impressed by the professionalism of the Rwandans," said Air Force Maj. Sang Kim, 722nd Expeditionary Air Base Squadron commander. "The work done here is essential to enable the [Rwandan Defense Forces] to execute their mission in Darfur."

The airlift was provided by aircraft and crews from the active-duty 60th Air Mobility Wing and the Air Force Reserve's 349th Air Mobility Wing from Travis.

"From planning through execution, this was a great experience for our unit," said Air Force Col. Lida Dahnke, commander of the 404th Air Expeditionary Group at Air Forces Africa and parent unit to the 722nd. "Once our planners had assembled all of the pieces to the puzzle, we still had to work through the processes of putting them all in place to execute the mission."

More than three months of extensive planning and preparation made the mission "fairly seamless for us," said Air Force Maj. Sean Pierce of the 301st Airlift Squadron, aircraft commander for one of the two C-17 transport planes.

The mission also represents the first large-scale peacekeeper support mission for U.S. Africa Command since it was formally activated Oct. 1. Previous support missions in support of peacekeeping in Darfur were conducted under the direction of U.S. European Command, which had responsibility for Africa prior to Africom's activation.

"The U.S. military has been working with African nations for years," said Vince Crawley, an Africom spokesman. "The 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."

(Eric Elliot works in the U.S. Africa Command public affairs office.)

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