"Peace keepers" can't stop war in Darfur

Independent:

At least 10 African Union soldiers have been killed and 50 are reported missing after a weekend assault on their base in southern Darfur. It was the worst attack yet on AU peacekeepers in the war-torn Sudanese region since their deployment three years ago, and happened just weeks before the first wave of new UN troops is set to arrive.

"Our camp has been completely destroyed," an AU spokesman, Noureddine Mezni, said yesterday. "There is a feeling of shock."

As many as 1,000 armed men in at least 30 vehicles stormed the base in Haskanita, South Darfur just after sunset on Saturday evening in what the AU called a "deliberate and sustained" assault.

The latest violence to threaten Darfur's fragile peace process came as a new diplomatic initiative for ending the four-year conflict got under way.

Brought together by former South African president Nelson Mandela, the so-called "peace elders" include his wife and rights activist Graca Machel, South African archbishop Desmond Tutu, former US president Jimmy Carter, the former UN envoy to Iraq Lakhdar Brahimi as well as the British business tycoon Richard Branson. They arrived in Sudan yesterday and are due to meet Sudan's president Omar al-Bashir, before continuing on to Darfur to talk to community leaders.

Following the attack on the AU base, both the Sudanese government and rebel leaders pinned the blame on each other. However, the AU force commander, Martin Luther Agwai, appeared to suggest responsibility for the attack lay with one of Darfur's numerous rebel movements when he commented that "rebel groups, who indulge in such random violence and bloodshed, undermine their own credibility on any negotiation table".

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The AU forces are learning the hard lesson the US and UN learned in Mogadishu. When you step between warring factions you are denying at least one of those parties objectives and they look at you as a belligerent and an enemy and they treat you as such. The only way to impose peace in such a situation is to have a force large enough to defeat either side.

The NY Times gives a description of the battle.

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According to Noureddine Mezni, an African Union spokesman, the rebels swarmed the base just after sunset with 30 heavily armed trucks, surprising the guards and opening fire with a barrage of machine guns that overwhelmed the peacekeepers.

“ We tried to defend ourselves but we were completely outnumbered,” Mr. Mezni said. “Our camp was totally destroyed and they looted everything — guns, trucks, even an armored personnel carrier.”

Mr. Mezni said the rebels, whose precise affiliation was unclear as of late Sunday, came at the camp from every direction with their trucks in what he called a “deliberate and sustained attack.”

After the initial assault, the attackers came back a second time to plunder and loot, African Union officials said.

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This is what is called a swarm attack using overwhelming force and attacks from multiple directions at once, given the defenders no opportunity to concentrate their fire power. The looting suggest that the attackers were probably interested in logistics. In desert warfare one side usually tries to deny food to the other. That is why you usually see a man made famine in places like Sudan or Somalia.

Update: The Belmont Club has much more on the attack. The attacking force was numbered at 1000. The fact that they were rebels complicates the politics of the Darfur situation where they have been characterized usually as victims. He also substantiates my assertion that this was a logistic operation by the rebels because they "stole everything that wasn't embedded in concrete."

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