In case you haven’t been reading UN Dispatch, the Darfur peacekeeping force (UNAMID) urgently needs helicopters. As time passes, this urgency has not faded, and UNAMID still has not received a single chopper. Speaking to The Guardian, UNAMID’s force commander, General Martin Luther Agwai, attests to the crippling gap between the mandate that the international community set up for his force and its stinginess in providing the equipment that UNAMID needs to fulfill this mandate. Agwai frustratingly observes that this has essentially rendered his peacekeepers into equipment movers.

“I was never part of the drawing of the mandate or the planning of the operation. But at least there was a minimum they thought the mission required,” the general said during a visit to London. “This is the basic minimum that we need and now we are very far away from it. No country has come up to offer helicopters to us.”

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Even the troops that have arrived have not been able to operate properly because in many cases, Agwai said, their equipment was stuck in logistical bases with no means of getting across the roadless, parched terrain of Darfur.

“Most people expect us to carry out the primary role of our mandate – protection of civilians, helping the humanitarian agencies. But right now that is not our priority, because for us to be able to do that we need the troops, we need the equipment … so we are struggling,” the Nigerian general said. “Now we have even turned some of our own personnel into drivers to bring in the equipment.”

Agwai even speculates that a few helicopters could have prevented the killings of eight of his troops in July. I don’t believe he’s exaggerating. The notion of a peacekeeping force operating in Darfur without any helicopters of its own — the few it has access to are operated by civilian contractors, subject to numerous restrictions and not even permitted in conflict zones — would be laughable if it weren’t so tragic.

(Photo of General Agwai, from our flickr friends at the Genocide Intervention Network, using a Creative Commons license.)

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