Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Erik Prince Offers to Train African Force to Save Darfur

Blackwater CEO Erik Prince tells the Wall Street Journal that he is willing to train and equip an African force to save Darfur.

And he doesn't want to make a nickel doing it. He's offering to do it at cost.

This amazing news is tucked way down in William McGurn's "Main Street" column that ran in the WSJ on July 29. McGurn writes:

Mr. Prince says that the 9,000 or so African Union soldiers in Darfur, as part of the United Nations peacekeeping force, are a good start. But he says that to be effective they need better training, communications and equipment. That is more or less the same message from a report released yesterday by the Darfur Consortium, a coalition of 50 African-based and Africa-focused NGOs. "One year ago the U.N. Security Council stood unanimous and promised Darfurians the strongest and largest protection force ever," says a coalition spokesman. "Today that force is just over a third deployed, lacks even the most basic equipment and is unable to protect itself let alone civilians."

Mr. Prince has a remedy. He believes that with 250 or so professionals, Blackwater can transform about a thousand of the African Union soldiers into an elite and highly mobile force. This force would also be equipped with helicopters and the kind of small planes that missionaries use in this part of the world. It would be cheaper than the hundreds of millions we are spending to set up a larger AU/U.N. force. And he says he'd do it at cost.

Blackwater would not do the fighting. Its people would serve as advisers, mechanics and pilots. Aid workers and villagers would be equipped with satellite telephones that include Global Positioning Systems.

When they call in, the troops would respond.

"I'm so sick of hearing that nothing can be done," he says. "The Janjaweed is a truly unfettered bully. No one has stood up to them. If they were met by a mobile quick reaction force of African Union soldiers, the Janjaweed would quickly learn their habits were not sustainable." And to ensure accountability, he says, the U.S. could send 25 military officers to observe how Blackwater is doing and serve as liaisons.

Up until Blackwater's offer, all the other "Save Darfur" activity is just useless talk. McGurn notes, "That's the point: Strongly worded resolutions, sanctions and boycotts are generally what you do in place of decisive action. I understand that the whole idea of Blackwater helicopters flying over Darfur probably horrifies many of the same people frustrated by Mr. Bashir's ability to game the system. But it's at least worth wondering what that same Blackwater helo might look like to a defenseless Darfur mother and her daughters lying in fear of a Janjaweed attack."

Any takers?

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