Oct 8 2006 Scotland on Sunday - UK Blair insists for Sudan troops plan despite militarys reluctance
[via ST] by Brian Brady:
British Prime Minister Tony Blair has astonished defence chiefs by ordering them to draw up plans to send hundreds of troops to strife-torn Sudan despite Britain's huge military commitments to Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Prime Minister has signalled his intention to back up his demands for international intervention to prevent "genocide" in Darfur by sending a large British force to help protect the black African population.
The proposal for at least 1,000 troops to play a core role in an international protection force has been under consideration by military planners for several months, although senior officers have repeatedly expressed their doubts about such a force's effectiveness.
But Blair is continuing to press for the move as a gesture of intent, particularly amid the continuing failure of the international community to agree on a multi-national force - and the Sudanese government's refusal to accept any intervention.
The proposed extension of Britain's military commitment overseas comes as the Prime Minister pledged that British forces in Afghanistan will be provided with whatever resources they need.
Addressing military personnel on the fifth anniversary of operations in the country, he promised "every support and every protection", including more armoured vehicles and more helicopters.
Scotland on Sunday understands that the proposal to send a non-combat force to Darfur was first investigated - at Blair’s insistence - at the military’s planning headquarters at Northwood earlier this year, when John Reid was defence secretary.
But the Prime Minister has maintained his interest in the issue, which he singled out during his Labour conference speech as a priority for action.
"What is happening now in the Sudan cannot stand," he told delegates last month. "If this were in the continent of Europe we'd act."
A senior military source last night said the military option was a "very real prospect", as Blair attempts to force the hands of the European Union and the United Nations.
He added: "This has been on the boards at Northwood for several months. The planners have told the prime minister that Britain cannot spare the troops easily, but he is committed to it.
"He has come back to it now. I think he would prefer this to happen as we draw down our forces elsewhere, especially Iraq, but he wants to do it anyway."
The conflict began in early 2003 when two new rebel groups began attacking government targets in Darfur.
Other nations, including Britain and the United States, claim Sudan's military is helping carry out a genocidal war against Darfur's black African residents. The Khartoum government denies the charge or backing the Arab Janjaweed militias, which are accused of attacking villages, killing, raping and looting.
Some 200,000 people have died and two million people have fled their homes as the crisis has escalated over the past three years. A number of aid workers have also been killed while attempting to bring relief to the oppressed people of Darfur. The UK is the second largest donor in Darfur, providing more than £96m in aid since the conflict began. The funds have been channelled into providing shelter, food, water and basic health care for Darfur's citizens, through UN agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
The Department for International Development has committed a further £67m towards humanitarian relief in Sudan in the next year.
The political and military crisis has worsened in recent days, as the Sudanese government has resisted UN plans for a 20,000-strong peacekeeping force to stop the conflict in Darfur, claiming it would be a cover for an invasion by Western countries. A 7,000-strong African Union force has failed to end the conflict.
In a report to the UN last week, Secretary General Kofi Annan said humanitarian access to Darfur was at its lowest level since 2004, and that a peace deal agreed in May had had little effect.
"Instead of reconciliation and building of trust, we are witnessing intensified violence and deeper polarisation," he warned. "The region is again on the brink of a catastrophic situation."
Although the UK has deployed around 5,600 service personnel to Afghanistan, and still has some 8,000 in Iraq, Blair wants to lead a "coalition of the willing" ready to step into Darfur, to present the UN and the Khartoum government with a fait accompli.
Tory leader David Cameron made clear his own hopes for an end to the impasse during his Conservative conference speech last week, when he told delegates: "I support humanitarian intervention."
However, an Opposition spokesman last night warned that the government should "think long and hard before committing more of our forces to another expedition overseas"