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US Preparing to Send Team to Assess Humanitarian Situation in Darfur - 2004-06-17

The U.S. military is preparing to send a special survey team to Chad to assess a possible humanitarian mission to assist refugees from Sudan's war-ravaged Darfur region.

A senior Pentagon official says the military's European Command is making preparations to send a Humanitarian Assessment Survey Team to Chad because of the crisis in the neighboring Darfur region of Sudan.

The official, speaking to VOA on condition of anonymity, says no decision has been made yet to actually deploy the so-called HAST team.

But the official says the situation in Darfur is an important concern for the Bush administration and he says the Pentagon is among the agencies watching developments there closely.

Violence in Darfur has left some 30,000 people dead and uprooted more than a million others, virtually all of them black Sudanese. The bloodshed, described as genocide by some United Nations officials, has been largely blamed on Arab militia fighters backed by the Sudanese government.

Although some foreign officials have recently suggested international military intervention may be necessary, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, responding to a VOA question, says the Pentagon has not been asked to consider any such mission.

"We've not been asked to prepare for an intervention, if that's your question," he said.

However, other top defense officials say the military's European Command, responsible for most of Africa, has been keeping a close eye on Darfur.

Should the European Command be ordered to send a humanitarian assessment team, it would be made up of military specialists who would determine requirements for a possible civil-military operations in a humanitarian crisis area.

Based on the recommendations of the HAST team, the commander of the European Command could direct the formation of a special task force to conduct operations.