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Lute: Hybrid Peacekeeping Force in Darfur an ‘Unprecedented’ Operation

Interviewee: Jane Holl Lute, Assistant Secretary-General, UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations
Interviewer: Stephanie Hanson
August 2, 2007

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On July 31, the UN Security Council passed a resolution authorizing a joint United Nations/African Union (AU) peacekeeping operation for Sudan’s Darfur region. Jane Holl Lute, assistant secretary-general for UN peacekeeping operations, calls the joint force an “unprecedented” operation for the United Nations, including the challenges in locating troops and supplies in the vast, remote stretches of Darfur. She says the complexity of the operation means the full force of some 26,000 troops will not be deployed until 2008.

The UN Security Council passed a new resolution authorizing a hybrid UN/AU peacekeeping force for Darfur. It’s scheduled to replace the AU force no later than December 31st this year.  Does that mean the current AU troops will remain but under a different command?

Essentially there will be a new operational concept on the ground to reflect in part the fact that a twenty-five-thousand-plus person force will be brought in as the hybrid operation replacing a roughly seven-thousand-person AU operation that’s been on the ground for the past three years. There will be a change in numbers significantly, there will be a change in operational concept and activity on the ground, and there will be a change, frankly, in expectations about what this hybrid is able to do in the area of protection and support to the political process.

How will the command structure function in this hybrid force?

It’s a unified command structure that has been agreed between the United Nations and the AU, so it will function in effect as a single mission even though it is reporting to two organizations: the UN and the AU. There will be a single force commander, a single senior representative, and the mission will operate with an integrated chain of command.

Will that single force commander be from the UN or from the African Union?

It is an agreed appointment; he is already on the ground. It’s General Martin Agwai from Nigeria [an AU commander].

Does this hybrid structure create additional challenges for the peacekeeping mission?

It is an unprecedented operation. Never before in the history of the United Nations has the UN and UN peacekeepers worked explicitly with another international organization—in this case, the African Union—in a single integrated operation that is fully funded by the United Nations assessment mechanism and under the integrated command structure and the rules, procedures, and processes of the UN.

So what are the specific steps before we’ll see troops hit the ground?

There are a number of activities already in train because we have been anticipating this mission for months. There are hundreds of containers of equipment and material in Port Sudan making their way to Darfur. There are dozens of people being recruited in a variety of key skills and capacities; there is a very robust dialogue with the African Union that has been ongoing and will continue to go on as we refine our arrangements for command and control and administration of the mission.  We’re continuing our dialogue with key partners and donor partners of the AU that have provided a lot of the sustainability to this point. We are having to put in place and look at commercial contractors for certain aspects of support in the area, the accommodation of food, of fuel, of water, etc. There’s a whole variety of logistical and administrative and financial capabilities and resources that are being mobilized and that process is already under way.

Some of the news reports I have read say the full force of 26,000 troops isn’t likely to be on the ground until 2008. Is that an accurate assessment?

I think that is accurate. It takes a very long time to mobilize a force of this complexity and size, and again, in the unprecedented arrangement the hybrid represents between the United Nations and the African Union. In addition, there is the tripartite mechanism of the UN, the AU, and the government of Sudan that is an important administrative component of the mission going forward. It’s important to remember, the UN has no standing army. We have no standing cadre of support or other professionals; they all have to be recruited one by one, either from other missions or external sources. We have no standing strategic planning capacity; that has to be mobilized, every time, as it has been in this case. We have no standing logistical contracts that we can just expand on a moment’s notice; these have to be negotiated individually—all of the movements of these troops, all of the arrangements for accommodation that has to be built, water has to be found, land has to be procured. The government of Sudan’s cooperation will be essential here.

So yes, this entire process will take many months, but the resolution acknowledges that. The resolution also sets expectations that the essential elements for command and control of the force will be put in place by October; we think we are on track to do that. [We think] our preparations for the bulk of the force—including the light- and heavy-support packages, which have been designed to support AMIS [African Union Mission in Sudan]—will be fully in hand if not exactly on the ground, but fully in hand by the end of this year, so that the transfer of authority can occur before the end of December 2007.

And can you explain what the heavy and light support packages consist of?

This was a three-phase plan designed to strengthen AMIS on the ground and strengthen the peacekeeping presence on the ground. The light-support package consisted of a number of military observers, some very modest additional support equipment; the heavy-support package is a rather larger component of military forces to augment AMIS, in addition to some helicopters and other logistical support. That heavy-support package is by and large designed to be the precursor step to the full fielding of the hybrid mission.

If this mission is fully staffed at 25,000-plus troops, it will be the biggest peacekeeping force in the world. Where do you anticipate these troops coming from? The UN resolution calls for the force to have a predominately African character. Is it realistic to anticipate that many troops will be found?

We certainly believe that troops can be found. It’s premature at this point to say definitively what the exact composition of the force will be like but we do understand the requirement exists for it to be predominately African in nature if that’s possible and augment it by others where gaps exist. We’re moving in that direction.

I noticed in the UN resolution this new force is not authorized to seize or collect arms, but it does have Chapter 7 authorization [section of UN charter that deals with threats to peace and security], which is a significant difference from the current AU force on the ground, which isn’t authorized to protect civilians. How significant is that Chapter 7 provision and what does that mean for the functioning of these peacekeeping forces on the ground?

Chapter 7 provisions are always significant. They authorize the force to use all measures necessary within the parameters spelled out in the resolution. The whole idea is to ensure that this mission has the capability and the operational flexibility to complete its mandate.

The peacekeeping mission on the ground is designed to support that process and the successive processes that will create the political stability necessary on the ground for any peacekeeping mission to have that kind of effect that we all hope it will have.

What do you see as the biggest logistical challenges in Darfur?

We will be putting twenty-five thousand additional police, military, and civilians on the ground in Darfur, an area where there is very little available water. All of these people and troops will have to be housed, they will have to be fed, they will have to have the kind of mobility necessary to cover the vast distances that do exist. They’ll have to be replenished; the troops will have to be rotated on a semiannual or annual basis as we do in UN peacekeeping. All of the material and support and capabilities necessary to mount and sustain this mission over the term of its mandate will have to be brought in very long distances, hundreds of kilometers in the most direct case. This is a logistical and administrative undertaking, the kind of which is, for us in the United Nations, unprecedented.

Can you explain how this mission will be funded?

The mission will be entirely funded—again this is another unprecedented aspect of this mission—under the assessment scale of the United Nations. It will be very costly; our projections are in excess of $2 billion once the mission is fully up and operational on an annual basis.

Does that mean individual countries contribute money to a UN pool of funds?

Yes, that’s right. The UN peacekeeping [department] is unique in its operations. When the member states commit to an operation and then approve the budget, they obligate themselves to share in the cost of that operation. It is on a prorated share that is agreed by them to distribute the cost among all 192 member states of the United Nations.

In Darfur on the ground right now, there is still not a viable peace process taking place between the rebel groups in Darfur and the Sudanese government. What does that mean for the prospects of an effective UN peacekeeping operation?

There is a very energetic political process underway with Jan Eliasson on behalf of the [UN] secretary-general and Salim Salim [AU diplomat] to organize a political architecture and dialogue for the rebel groups. The peacekeeping mission on the ground is designed to support that process and the successive processes that will create the political stability necessary on the ground for any peacekeeping mission to have that kind of effect that we all hope it will have. A peacekeeping mission operationally can usually accompany a political process like this but it cannot substitute for that process, and a durable peace for Darfur going forward will depend on a viable political dialogue and architecture among all the relevant parties.

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