Senate Urges Bush, International Community to Provide Helicopters for Darfur Mission

Special to UN Dispatch from the UN Foundation’s Kevin Blesdoe, who attended the hearing on S.Res. 432

Last night the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted in favor of Senate Resolution 432, urging the international community to provide the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) with essential tactical and utility helicopters. The resolution calls attention to the lack of necessary equipment in Darfur and urges President Bush to personally contact heads of state to ask for the necessary commitments.

The UN-AU force has requested 18 transport and 6 attack helicopters, but has not yet received them. Ethiopia has pledged 3 transport and 2 attack helicopters, while Bangladesh has also offered some support, though it is not clear how much. Without this critical air support, UNAMID cannot quickly transport troops across large areas to respond to crises, protect civilians or carry necessary cargo and supplies. In the rainy season, ground transport will become even more difficult and perhaps even impossible in some areas.

The spirit in the room was congenial, with leaders from both party’s agreeing on the urgency of the issue. “We cannot allow genocide and suffering to continue because the combined nations of the world cannot find 24 helicopters to help stop it. That is inexcusable,” said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Joe Biden, who introduced the legislation jointly with Richard Lugar, the committee’s Ranking Minority member. Senator Biden admitted that helicopters alone would not be enough to save Darfur, and urged the European Union and the United Nations Security Council to join with the US in imposing sanctions on the Sudanese government.

“History has shown that peacekeeping success depends on size, resources, mandate, mobility, and command structure of the force,” said Lugar, stressing the importance of aerial support, “And the mission must be accompanied by a peace-building process among the parties in the conflict.”

Among the bill’s cosponsors are Senators Sam Brownback (R-KS), Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Russ Feingold (D-WI), Carl Levin (D-MI) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ). Here’s how you can take action to support the legislation.