Finally, Some Helicopters for Darfur?

According to Reuters, some of the helicopters so desperately needed by peacekeepers in Darfur have been offered by a somewhat unlikely source:

Russia is proposing to supply some of the helicopters the United Nations has been urgently seeking to back up the U.N./African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur, Moscow’s U.N. ambassador said on Wednesday.

“The most likely scenario of the use of Russian helicopters would be Russia supplying the helicopters with crews from other countries,” said envoy Vitaly Churkin.

The United Nations has for months been seeking six attack and 18 transport helicopters to support the planned 26,000-member UNAMID force, which is starting to deploy in the violence-torn Darfur region of western Sudan.

Churkin was murky on the details, not specifying the number or type of helicopters that Russia will provide, and the solution of outfitting Russian choppers with foreign crews is far from an ideal option. Nonetheless, combined with the four attack helicopters offered by Ethiopia last month, this is a start.

Unfortunately, even as Darfur peacekeepers seek to receive some much-needed aerial support, they still face crippling shortages on the ground. U.S. special envoy Rich Williamson was right to caution that “we’re wrong to obsess about the helicopters,” but only because there is so much else to obsess about as well. There are still only 9,000 troops that have been deployed, and the state of these largely African units — underfunded, undersupplied, and insufficiently trained — is even worse than many had assumed. In addition, the 105 Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs) that arrived from Canada over two years ago are apparently outdated and in need of repair.

So, to the international community, if helicopters aren’t your thing — how about some new APCs?