NATO defense ministers have approved an operation to airlift extra African troops to Sudan's strife-torn Darfur region, the alliance's first mission to Africa.
The plans call for NATO to help fly thousands of peacekeepers from African Union nations into Darfur. The AU recently asked NATO to help it increase the number of troops there from about 2,700 to more than 7,000.
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer says international organizations must help out in the region.
"The situation in that region is appalling, and we must do all that is in our power, in coordination with other organizations, starting with the European Union, to assist the African Union in its efforts," he said.
The European Union has a separate mission in Darfur, but NATO officials stressed there is no competition with the EU. Secretary-General Scheffer said that the needs of the people come first.
"These people need help, the people in Darfur need help, and the African Union is providing the help. So, NATO and the EU are doing everything we can to answer the request by the African Union," he said.
At least 180,000 people have died and about two million have fled their homes because of the Darfur conflict. Relief groups say entire villages have been wiped out, and civilians have been systematically attacked.
The conflict involves rebels fighting over what they consider discrimination against Sudanese of African origin, and ethnic Arab militias that the Sudanese government is accused of supporting.
The United States calls the crisis in Darfur genocide, however the United Nations says there are crimes against humanity occurring which do not meet the definition of genocide.