SUDAN WATCH: Britain may deploy troops to quell fighting in Darfur Sudan

Friday, December 10, 2004

Britain may deploy troops to quell fighting in Darfur Sudan

According to a November 10 report in the Guardian Britain could be asked to contribute troops to a 10,000-strong UN peacekeeping force for Sudan under a draft resolution discussed in the security council, government officials in London indicated November 9, 2004.

The proposal for a UN force is part of a British package of incentives designed to gain Sudan's agreement to a comprehensive settlement of the conflict in Darfur. Asked whether Britain would send troops to Sudan as part of the proposed UN force, as Tony Blair appeared to suggest earlier this year, Chris Mullin, the Foreign Office Minister for Africa, declined to rule it out saying it was "premature" to comment.

The UN resolution, drafted by Britain, was presented to an extraordinary security council meeting held in Nairobi on November 18-19, 2004.

Further reading:

Nov 15: UK Wants 10,000 Troops for Darfur. Note the report says UN troops will not, however, be sent if there is no peace agreement and sanctions are still on the agenda.

July 22: Guardian UK report "Blair draws up plans to send troops to Sudan."
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Malawi sends 30 peacekeepers to Darfur

Malawi is sending 30 peacekeepers to Darfur. The 30-man team of soldiers are part of the AU peacekeeping force and would leave in about five days when logistics were finalised, the Malawi Defence Force Public Information Officer, Colonel Clement Namangale, told Reuters.

He said the team had undergone 13-days of special training.

Further reading:

Nov 15: UK Wants 10,000 Troops for Darfur. July 22: Guardian UK report Blair draws up plans to send troops to Sudan.
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THE HISTORY OF THE BRITISH ARMY

Egypt and the Sudan

British intervention in Egypt

Britain’s interest in Egypt was increased by the construction of the Suez Canal, which was opened in 1869. The Canal considerably shortened the sea route to India, and in 1875 the British Government had bought shares in the Suez Canal Company. However, Egypt had become virtually bankrupt by 1878 and this led Britain and France to take control of Egyptian finances and, in effect, run the country. This caused considerable discontent amongst many Egyptians and the situation was exacerbated by the decision of the Khedive (Viceroy) to dismiss many Egyptian Army officers as an economic measure.

In May 1882, one officer, Colonel Ahmed Arabi, overthrew the Khedive and led a revolt against what he saw as unwarranted foreign interference in Egypt’s affairs. Gladstone’s government concluded that in order to protect Britain’s strategic and financial interests in the region, military intervention was unavoidable. In August 1882, a British and Indian force of 35,000 men under Lieutenant-General Sir Garnet Wolseley sailed into the Canal and landed at Ismailia. On 13 September, after a daring night march, Wolseley’s troops surprised the Egyptians at Tel-el-Kebir and drove them from their trenches.

Battle of Tel-el-Kebir
Picture: Battle of Tel-el-Kebir
 
Wolseley entered Cairo the following day and Arabi and his army surrendered. Although the authority of the Khedive was restored, the British remained in Egypt in order to ensure stable government.

The Mahdist Rising

In occupying Egypt, Britain had also assumed responsibility for the Egyptian Sudan where an Islamic revolt had begun in 1881, led by Mohammed Ahmed, who styled himself the ‘Mahdi’ or ‘guide’. By the end of 1882, the Mahdists controlled much of the Sudan, and on 5 November 1883, at El Obeid, they annihilated an Egyptian force that had been sent to restore order. The Mahdi was supported by Osman Digna, leader of the Beja tribesmen of the Red Sea area. In January 1884, the Beja, whose extravagant hairstyles earned them the nickname of ‘Fuzzy-wuzzies’ from the British, wiped out an Egyptian force under Colonel Valentine Baker outside the Red Sea port of Suakim. To rectify the situation, a 4,000 strong British force under Major-General Gerald Graham was sent to Suakim. On 29 February, they defeated Osman Digna at El Teb, but two weeks later were almost defeated themselves at Tamai. The British fought in two brigade squares, one of which was temporarily broken by the Mahdist forces. The situation was only retrieved when the second square moved up in support. Whilst these two victories were a boost to public morale, they had little long-term effect. Osman Digna was able to recover from his losses and Graham’s force was withdrawn. Meanwhile, Major-General Charles Gordon had been sent to Khartoum. His orders were to oversee the evacuation of the Sudan, but instead he elected to stay and defend the Sudanese capital. Khartoum was invested by the Mahdi in May 1884 and Britain was forced to organise a relief expedition to rescue Gordon.

The fall of Khartoum

Wolseley’s relief column set off from Cairo in October 1884. Realising that his infantry, travelling in boats up the Nile, might not reach Khartoum in time to save Gordon, he detached a desert column under to travel overland by a faster, but more dangerous route. On 17 Jan 1885, this column, commanded by Brigadier-General Sir Herbert Stuart, was attacked by the Mahdists at Abu Klea. Winston Churchill later described the resulting battle as, ‘the most savage and bloody action ever fought in the Sudan by British troops’. Despite suffering heavy losses to British rifle fire, the Mahdists succeeded in penetrating the British square, which was closed only after desperate hand to hand fighting. The British suffered 168 casualties, the Mahdists about 1100. The column finally reached Khartoum on 28 January, 2 days after Gordon had been killed and the town had fallen.

The reconquest of the Sudan

Britain saw the death of Gordon at Khartoum as a national humiliation, and there was strong pressure on the Government for an expedition to be sent to avenge him and restore Egyptian rule. A Mahdist invasion of Egypt was defeated in 1888, but it was not until 1896 that the Government, possibly concerned that if Britain did not conquer the Sudan, then the Italians and French would, authorised military action. In that year, an Anglo-Egyptian army, led by Major-General Herbert Kitchener, entered the country. Kitchener understood the importance of keeping his force supplied, and he built a railway as he advanced. Moving forward slowly but surely, he inflicted a number of defeats on the Mahdists. On 8 April 1898, at Atbara, on the Nile, Kitchener’s force of about 12,000 attacked the fortified camp of a Mahdist army under the Emir Mahmood. After a fierce struggle, the Dervishes were completely routed and their commander and 4000 of his men were captured.
 
Charge of the 21st Lancers, Omdurman
Picture: Charge of the 21st Lancers, Omdurman

Finally, at Omdurman on 2 September 1898, Kitchener inflicted a crushing defeat on the forces of the Khalifa, the Mahdi’s successor. Though they attacked with fanatical bravery, the Mahdists were no match for the rifles and Maxim machine guns of Kitchener’s army. By the end of the day, they had suffered approximately 27,000 casualties. The Anglo-Egyptians lost 43 dead. Omdurman broke the power of the Mahdists and although the Khalifa remained at large until the following November, the Sudan was quickly pacified.

© Copyright: National Army Museum 2000
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Lord Kitchener of Khartoum (1850 - 1916)

Lord Kitchener of Khartoum (1850 - 1916)

Best known for his famous recruitment posters bearing his heavily moustachioed face and pointing hand over the legend, 'Your country needs you', as secretary of state for war at the beginning of World War I Kitchener organized armies on an unprecedented scale and became a symbol of the national will to win.

Commissioned in the Royal Engineers, in 1886 Kitchener was appointed governor of the British Red Sea territories and subsequently became commander in chief of the Egyptian army in 1892. In 1898 he crushed the separatist Sudanese forces of al-Mahdi in the Battle of Omdurman and then occupied the nearby city of Khartoum, where his success saw him ennobled in 1898.

In 1900 he became commander in chief of the Boer War, where he fought the guerrillas by burning farms and herding women and children into disease-ridden concentration camps. These ruthless measures helped weaken resistance and bring British victory.

On returning to England in 1902 he was created Viscount Kitchener and was appointed commander in chief in India. In September 1911 he became the proconsul of Egypt, ruling there and in the Sudan until August 1914. When war broke out, Kitchener was on leave in England and reluctantly accepted an appointment to the cabinet as secretary of state for war. Flying in the face of popular opinion, he warned that the conflict would be decided by Britain's last 1,000,000 men. He rapidly enlisted and trained vast numbers of volunteers for a succession of entirely new 'Kitchener armies'. By the end of 1915 he was convinced of the need for military conscription, but never publicly advocated it, deferring to Prime Minister Asquith's belief that it was not yet politically practicable.

In his recruitment of soldiers, planning of strategy and mobilisation of industry, Kitchener was handicapped by bureaucracy and his own dislike for teamwork and delegation. His cabinet associates did not share the public's worship of Kitchener and gradually relieved him of his responsibilities for industrial mobilisation and then strategy. He was killed in 1916 when HMS Hampshire was sunk by a German mine while taking him to Russia.

© Copyright: BBC History
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General Charles Gordon (1833 - 1885)

General Charles Gordon (1833 - 1885)

British general Charles Gordon became a national hero for his exploits in China and his ill-fated defence of Khartoum against Sudanese rebels.

The son of an artillery officer, Gordon was commissioned in the Royal Engineers in 1852. He distinguished himself in the Crimean War (1853-56) and in 1860 volunteered for the 'Arrow' war against the Chinese. In May 1862 Gordon's corps of engineers was assigned to strengthen the European trading centre of Shanghai, which was threatened by the insurgents of the Taiping Rebellion. A year later he became commander of the 3,500-man peasant force raised to defend the city. During the next 18 months Gordon's troops played an important role in suppressing the Taiping uprising.

He returned to England in January 1865, where an enthusiastic public had already dubbed him 'Chinese Gordon'. In 1873 he was appointed governor of the province of Equatoria in the Sudan. Between April 1874 and December 1876 he mapped the upper Nile and established a line of stations along the river as far south as present Uganda. He was then promoted to governor-general, where he asserted his authority, crushing rebellions and suppressing the slave trade. However, ill health forced him to resign and return to England in 1880 before travelling once more to places including India, China and South Africa.

In February 1884 Gordon returned to the Sudan to evacuate Egyptian forces from Khartoum, threatened by Sudanese rebels led by Muhammad Ahmad al-Mahdi. Khartoum came under siege the next month and on 26th January 1885 the rebels broke into the city, killing Gordon (against al-Mahdi's instructions) and the other defenders. The British relief force arrived two days later.

The British public reacted to his death by acclaiming 'Gordon of Khartoum' a martyred warrior-saint and by blaming the government, particularly Gladstone, for failing to relieve the siege. However, historians have since suggested that Gordon defied orders and refused to evacuate Khartoum even though that remained possible until late in the siege.

© Copyright: BBC History

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