Wesley Clark: NATO Forces Needed in Darfur

Former NATO commander Wesley Clark argues the case for sending NATO troops into Darfur to protect civilians and humanitarian operations. Clark is currently a board member of the International Crisis Group.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This morning we have the first of two commentaries on Darfur, proposals on what to do. This one comes from Wesley Clark, the former presidential candidate and supreme commander of NATO. General Clark wants NATO to send troops.

General WESLEY CLARK:

After a series of UN Security Council resolutions on Darfur and a donors' conference to boost the African Union mission there, you could be forgiven for thinking the international community has responded adequately to the crisis. Sadly, this is far from the case. The international community urgently needs to take bold, new action.

The truth is, civilians are still being targeted in Darfur. The pro-government Janjaweed militias still remain unchecked, and humanitarian access is still restricted along key transit routes and in areas where millions of displaced Sudanese have gathered. Women and girls are still being raped as they leave their camps to collect firewood and forage for food. It's a tragedy.

Now the African Union's priority must be to protect civilians. It must be able to take all necessary measures, including offensive action, against any attacks or threats against civilians or humanitarian operations. But the AU's mission force numbers and its mandate are simply not sufficient to cope with the reality on the ground in Darfur. The AU current plan is to deploy 7,700 troops next month and possibly 12,000 troops next year. But this is far too slow. A minimum of 12,000 troops are needed on the ground right now, not six months from now.

The African Union should deploy a battalion task force of around a thousand troops to each of Darfur's eight sectors and maintain another battalion task force in reserve. Each sector would then have close to a thousand troops, twice as many civilian police and then there'd be another thousand troops in headquarters, and other support staff.

Even if the African Union can overcome the political obstacles for strengthening its mandate in Darfur, and that's a very big if, it's in no position to get such large numbers of troops on the ground in such a short time. Despite European Union and NATO assistance, the African Union mission looks set to fall short of its target of even 7,700 troops by September.

The UN Security Council, in consultation with the AU, should request and authorize NATO to deploy a multinational bridging force to bring the combined force level in Darfur immediately up to 12 to 15,000 troops, while the African Union prepares and deploys its own forces. This is not an easy recommendation to make for Darfur, where all multinational organizations have been at pains to keep non-African troops out of Sudan.

But the notion that the atrocities in Darfur are solely African problems requiring exclusively African solutions has to be reconsidered. These ongoing offenses are crimes against all humanity. They demand an international response that gives human life priority over diplomatic sensitivities. Working together, NATO and the AU can save the lives of tens of thousands of innocent civilians. They can demonstrate to outlaw regimes like the government of Sudan that the international community will not tolerate crimes against humanity. And we must do this now.

INSKEEP: Commentary from General Wesley Clark, supreme allied commander of NATO during the 1999 Kosovo campaign. He's now a member of the board of the International Crisis Group.

Tomorrow we'll hear a different plan to stop the killing in Darfur.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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