Bush Calls For More Muscle In Darfur

President Bush greets supporters in Tampa.
President Bush greets supporters in Tampa. "I'm in the process now of working . . . to encourage" more troops in Darfur, he said after a speech. (By Pablo Martinez Monsivais -- Associated Press)

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By Jim VandeHei and Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, February 18, 2006

ORLANDO, Fla., Feb. 17 -- President Bush on Friday called for doubling the number of international troops in the war-ravaged Darfur region of Sudan and a bigger role for NATO in the peacekeeping effort.

Bush has concluded that peace talks will not halt the violence that has left tens of thousands dead and more than 2 million homeless in Darfur and that a more muscular military response is required, administration officials said.

After private talks with world leaders, including U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, Bush decided to call for an additional 7,000 or more troops to be placed under U.N. command, along with the 7,000 African Union troops already there, because such an expansion would be the quickest way to intervene in the bloody conflict, the officials said. But many details of the policy shift need to be worked out, including how many U.S. troops would be part of the beefed-up international peacekeeping effort. Lt. Cmdr. Joe Carpenter, a Pentagon spokesman, said it is "premature to speculate" on potential increases in U.S. troops.

"I'm in the process now of working with a variety of folks to encourage there to be more troops, probably under the United Nations," Bush said in Tampa in a question-and-answer session after he made a speech on terrorism. The announcement caught senior White House aides by surprise because details of the new policy have not been finalized. Still, a top White House official said the Bush statement is part of a significant shift that will drive Darfur policy in the months ahead.

The change is essentially an acknowledgment that the previous policy did not stop the killings, which Bush had described as genocide. He had resisted calls for a bigger U.S. role and relied on the African Union to take the lead, with increased NATO assistance. U.S. officials had also pressed Sudan to rein in the militias.

But the violence continued, and almost no progress has been made in the peace talks between Sudan's government and Darfur rebels. The negotiations are taking place in the Nigerian capital, Abuja.

There are also growing fears of a military clash between Sudan and neighboring Chad, where several hundred thousand refugees from Darfur are living in camps.

Four U.S. military planners were sent to the United Nations this week to assist the U.N. peacekeeping department in coming up with a range of options for the military forces, according to a State Department official. NATO would provide planning and logistical assistance.

The latest conflict began in early 2003, when two Darfur rebel groups took up arms against the Arab-led Islamic government in Khartoum, citing discrimination against the region's black tribes. The Sudanese government armed and organized a local Arab militia, known as the Janjaweed, to target local communities that were suspected of sympathizing with the rebels. U.N. officials say as many as 200,000 people may have been killed by violence and disease as a result of the attacks.

In a break from current policy, which has emphasized peace talks and long-term solutions, Bush concluded this month that the 7,000-member African Union peacekeeping force has been hamstrung by its size and limited rules of engagement, one official said. With memories of the failed 1993 U.S. military operation in Somalia fresh in their minds, many U.S. policymakers have been reluctant to commit U.S. forces unilaterally or through multilateral organizations such as NATO.

But Bush brushed aside the resistance of some senior policymakers and sided with White House adviser Michael J. Gerson and others who have been lobbying for more assistance to Darfur. Bush this week also proposed $500 million for Darfur as part of a larger special budget request to Congress.

There is some bipartisan support for intervening in the troubled region. Sens. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) plan to introduce a resolution in Congress calling for NATO troops to help the African Union "stop the genocide" in the Darfur region.


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