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Saturday, March 7, 2009

Airpower in Darfur

The Thursday edition of The Washington Post has an opinion piece by former Air Force Chief of Staff, General Merrill (Tony) McPeak, and Kurt Bassuener, of the Democratization Policy Council.  Titled "Grounding Sudan's Killers," it talks to the failure of talk to solve the problem in Darfur.

There is no doubt that the crisis in Darfur is a problem.  There is some doubt about the scope of the problem.  Agreed is that some 2.5 million people have been displaced by attacks from Sudanese Forces and their Janjaweed militia allies.  The US says what is going on is a Genocide. Some groups estimate a quarter to a half million dead.  On the other hand, the UN says less that 10,000 killed between 2004 and 2007.  You can believe the Bush Administration's assertion of genocide (The Obama Administration hasn't yet spoken out in a loud voice on this), civilian groups or the United Nations.  There is no doubt, however that rape is being used to intimidate and perhaps reduce the population.

The authors are correct in noting that Sudan uses its somewhat limited airpower resources to great effect in policing the Sudan.  They are also correct in saying that if NATO, to include France, were to step up, this could be stopped quickly.  The reason France is important is that they operate a suitable airfield at Abéché, in eastern Chad.  The airfield looks to have a NATO Standard runway, but the latest report in Wikipedia suggests daylight to dusk operations.  Some upgrading will be required. The reason the US needs to be part of this NATO operation is to provide air refueling and "command and control" resources, as the article points out.

Very doable.  I think I said so in a letter to Commonweal three or four years ago.

The trick is, then what?  What are the "branches and sequels," as the Army likes to say.  Branches are what you do if this or that goes awry.  Sequels are what you do next, if things go according to plan.  (A more thorough discussion can be found on page 6-9 of this older document.)

So, what kinds of things could go wrong and require Branches and Sequels?  (Remember, President Bashir is not locked into some fixed next move--he is a living, breathing, thinking, cunning leader of the 33nd largest nation in the world, on the 10th largest piece of real estate.)
  • They could try to shoot down our air intervention aircraft--Probably not a big problem.
  • They could mount an overland campaign, aiming at killing a lot of people in Darfur--We would have to escalate our efforts, including major backing to the U.N.-African Union "hybrid force." (Mission Creep)
  • They could take hostages in their bigger cities, probably Westerners, since China is an friend--Back we go to 1979.  We would have to consider either folding our hand or rescuing the hostages or just taking out President Bashir.  (Major Mission Change.  Question.  If we physically remove President Bashir do we "own" the Sudan?)
  • Some other option that appeals to President Bashir.
I think that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should seriously consider this and if she likes it, recommend it to President Obama.  But, it needs to be presented with all its wrinkles and warts.  This is not necessarily a "piece of cake."

Regards  --  Cliff

1 comment:

C R Krieger said...

A friend of mine EMailed

"Africa is watching.  We either can lead or shut up."

Regards  --  Cliff