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US Military Helps AU Peacekeepers Move Into Western Darfur

U.S. planes and troops have begun airlifting Rwandan peacekeepers into Sudan's western Darfur region. The effort is part of the African Union mission aimed at improving security and facilitating humanitarian aid in the war-torn area.

One hundred and fifty U.S. troops and four C-130 aircraft have been deployed from Ramstein Airbase in Germany to the Rwandan capital of Kigali to airlift 550 Rwandan peacekeepers to Darfur. U.S. troops will not deploy in Darfur.

The 86th Airlift Wing public affairs officer, Captain Jennifer Lovett says the mission is on schedule, despite slight technical problems with the aircraft. Ms. Lovett says the mood among the U.S. troops is optimistic.

"Humanitarian missions are the ones we, I would like to say, enjoy more, because we are making a difference," said Captain Lovett. "And I think every little bit helps in the Sudan. And if we can transport troops and that makes a difference, I think everybody is feeling very good about that."

The air drop comes at a crucial time. The African Union last week accused the Khartoum government of colluding with Arab militias in Darfur, after 29 people were killed in an unprecedented attack on a camp for displaced Darfuris.

The 2.5-year conflict in Darfur began when rebels rose against the Khartoum government. A retaliatory scorched-earth campaign undertaken by government-backed Arab militias called Janjaweed, followed. An estimated 180,000 people have died and two million more have been displaced by the fighting.

The United States has called the conflict in Darfur genocide.

This week's airlift is part of a larger initiative by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to bring humanitarian aid to the troubled region.

A NATO spokesperson says the mission will continue in the coming months to airlift troops from Gambia, Ghana, and Kenya, with the help of Italian and German forces.