Sunday, December 26, 2004

From 1 January British and French forces begin to prepare for EU Rapid Reaction Force missions

This morning, a report at the Scotsman mentions another rebel group called the National Movement for Reform and Development in a piece titled "World put to shame as Sudan heads for disaster."

Also today, reports by the Independent and Agence France-Presse via Space War and Turkish Press say British Prime Minister Tony Blair has asked for plans to be prepared to deploy 3,000 British troops in Sudan.

Unsurprisingly, a Reuters report a few hours later, confirmed a spokeswoman for Mr Blair's office said she was unaware of any such request. "We're trying to help find a solution -- clearly there are difficulties in the Sudan -- but working through the U.N. and the African Union," she said.

The Independent's report rings more true than the Reuters report that was based on the view of a spokeswoman. The British government has been known in the past to "leak" tantalising news snippets as part of a wider strategy that also helps gauge public opinion. Here is why I believe Mr Blair has ordered military chiefs to prepare to send British troops to intervene in Sudan in the New Year, and why I have eagerly awaited and expected such news in the run up to January 1, 2005:

Various reports over the past few months led one to believe that Britain would consider British troops as part of the 10,000 peacekeepers it proposed at the UN Security Council meeting in Nairobi last month.

Several weeks ago, Mr Blair travelled to Ethiopia for the launch meeting of his new Commission for Africa. He personally delivered a five point plan to Sudan's President in Khartoum with the warning of a January deadline and serious consequences if the plan was not carried out.

In July, the head of the British Army said he could provide 5,000 troops for Sudan at short notice.

A British military reconnaissance team visited Sudan to investigate the possibility of sending medics and logistical personnel to assist in any United Nations operation to provide aid to the people of Darfur. The 30-strong team from the Permanent Joint Headquarters, led by a colonel, included medics, logistics staff and communications experts.

Britain has been working with its partners in the European Union to form Rapid Reaction Forces in teams of 1,500 soldiers that could respond to hotspots, anywhere in the world, within just a few weeks. January was consistently mentioned as a date when the troops could be ready. Note, the Independent's report states:

[British] Chiefs of staff have been told to prepare plans to send up to 3,000 troops to the troubled Darfur region amid concern that the humanitarian crisis will dramatically worsen. The deployment will be discussed early next month at a meeting with senior military officials.

"When you decide to make an intervention you have got to be able to move fast," a minister told The Independent on Sunday.

Troops would be sent as part of the new European Union Rapid Reaction Force which Mr Blair has said he wants to be operational "as soon as possible in 2005". Senior military figures now expect Darfur to be the first major test for the EU Rapid Reaction Force, if it is sanctioned by the UN or African Union.

From 1 January British forces begin major command exercises with France to prepare for missions. If British troops are sent, the most likely candidates are the Marines' 3 Commando Brigade in Plymouth or 16 Air Assault Brigade from the Army, now at Colchester. There could be two battlegroups, of about 850 to 1,000.

It is not clear if the new EU Rapid Reaction Forces would require a U.N. resolution to intervene against the will of another country. Or whether instead they could get a mandate via the African Union's security council. If members of the EU agree to deploy their own EU army, while the EU are financially supporting the African Union, why would the EU need a mandate from the UN Security Council?

UPDATE: China and South Africa news has picked up on the story so it should be reaching Khartoum's ears any time now :-) Nothing yet from the BBC. I've read the rebels keep their ears glued to the BBC's Arabic radio station. Word should be getting around like wildfire by now: the Brits are coming! Heh.

UPDATE: South African news has now picked up on the denial story but with a slight variation: "I don't recognise that story at all," a Blair spokesperson said on condition of anonymity.
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Here is a same day update on post above. Dozens of foreign news agencies around the world are circulating reports announcing that Britain is preparing to send thousands of British troops into Darfur. The reports mostly contain the same information. However, news just out by the UK Herald provides greater detail, mentioning France and the French Foreign Legion but does not reveal sources. Please read the Herald's report in full. Note, nothing of this news has yet been covered by the BBC, Scotsman or Guardian. It seems likely current reports are springing out of news that from 1 January British and French forces begin to prepare for EU Rapid Reaction Force missions. Darfur may be their first mission. More later.

Further reading:

See my post Dec. 11, 2004 entitled "European Union must act to stop violence in Darfur" and other posts on the EU at Passion of the Present.

Note Google search box for EU posts here, and at personal blog here and here.

Dec 23 Good News (bringing the UK Christian online community together) issues a Statement on Sudan.

Dec 26 Scotsman report: World put to shame as Sudan heads for disaster.

Dec 26 Pakistan Daily news: US sanctions bill harmful to peace efforts.

Dec 25 BBC report: Satellite mapping aids Darfur relief.

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