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US Deploys Small Military Team to Chad - 2004-06-23

The U.S. military may be considering possible action in connection with the violence and resulting humanitarian crisis in the Darfur region of western Sudan.

The U.S. European Command has moved a small team of military non-combat specialists into Chad in case the Bush administration orders future military operations in connection with the Darfur humanitarian crisis.

The officials, speaking to VOA on condition of anonymity, indicate the small group was deployed in place of a full military humanitarian assessment survey, or HAST, team.

A senior Pentagon official disclosed last week the European Command, which oversees U.S. military operations in most of Africa, might send such a HAST team to Chad. There was no immediate explanation of the change in plans.

The last HAST team deployed by the European Command was to Liberia last year. It had 18 members and was charged with evaluating not only the humanitarian situation in Monrovia but also the condition of the airport, seaport and road and bridge systems.

In disclosing the movement of military personnel to Chad, defense officials were quick to make clear a team of U.S. Marines now in Chad to train government forces in counter-terrorist tactics was not involved.

About 25 Marines began the training in early June as part of the Pan-Sahel Initiative, a State Department program. A spokesman for the Marines described their arrival at the same time as the ongoing Darfur crisis as purely coincidental.

In the meantime, defense officials are rejecting criticism that Pentagon inaction over Darfur is similar to that during the genocide in Rwanda 10 years ago.

The officials say it is not the Pentagon's decision whether to intervene in the crisis but rather a decision for the White House to make.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters last week the Pentagon has not been asked to prepare for any kind of intervention.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan urged member states this week to take a more active role in solving the crisis in Darfur.

Although some U.S. and British lawmakers have criticized the United Nations for not doing enough, Mr. Annan has charged member states are using him as an excuse to hide their own inaction.

Government-backed Arab militia have been blamed for the violence in Darfur against black African villagers. Some humanitarian officials have described the campaign as genocide, while others have called it "ethnic cleansing."