Attack on UNAMID Forces in Darfur: The Khartoum Regime is Responsible
Eric Reeves | July 12, 2008 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-zN
On July 8, 2008, at approximately 2:45pm local time, heavily armed Janjaweed militia attacked a joint police and military patrol of the UN/African Union Mission in Sudan (UNAMID) in an area approximately 100 kilometers southeast of el-Fasher, near the village of Umm Hakibah (North Darfur). In a firefight that lasted approximately three hours, seven UNAMID troops and police were killed and twenty-two were injured, seven of these critically. Ten vehicles were destroyed or taken during the attack. Although there was initial uncertainty about the identity of the attacking force, this uncertainty has been eliminated in the course of a preliminary investigation. In addition to various published reports, UN Undersecretary for Peacekeeping, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, offered a compelling July 11, 2008 briefing to the UN Security Council in closed session, making a number of telling observations that point unambiguously to Janjaweed forces as those responsible:
 Guéhenno told the Security Council that the attack on UN-authorized peacekeepers “took place in an area under Sudanese government control and that some of the assailants were dressed in clothing similar to Sudanese army uniforms. He also said the ambush was ‘pre-meditated and well-organized’ and was intended to inflict casualties rather than to steal equipment or vehicles” (Voice of America [dateline: UN/New York], July 11, 2008). The peacekeepers attacked reported seeing approximately 200 fighters, many on horses—a signature feature of the Janjaweed (Arabic for “devil [or spirit] on horseback”).
 Agence France Presse reports: “Guéhenno was quoted as saying that the ambush was designed ‘to inflict casualties and was carried out with ‘equipment usually not used by (rebel) militias” ([dateline: UN/New York], July 11, 2008). Separately and confidentially, a UN official went further in confirming to this writer that some of the arms used, including large-caliber recoilless rifles, have never been seen in the arsenals of the rebel groups. This official said that Guéhenno, who is retiring, had rarely been so explicit in assigning responsibility for attacks in Darfur.
There is additional evidence that the Janjaweed—armed and in this case almost certainly directed by Khartoum’s military command—were responsible for the attack on 61 Rwandan soldiers, 10 civilian police officers, and two military observers, who were returning to their el-Fasher base after investigating the killing of two civilians:
 Agence France Presse reports from Khartoum on the views of UN and African Union officials on the ground in Darfur: “Officials in the African Union and UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur, known as UNAMID, said on Wednesday [July 9, 2008] that suspected Janjaweed militia, who have fought with the state [i.e., Government of Sudan], were behind the attack that killed seven peacekeepers” (July 10, 2008).
 The motive for the attack has not been established, but an assessment of who benefits from an attack of this scale and intensity leaves no doubt as to responsibility. The rebels know full well that this attack will make insecurity in Darfur all the greater, as UNAMID will now pull back significantly from patrolling and investigating operations. Some deployments of additional forces will be put on hold because of the attack (Australia, for example, announced today that it is suspending deployment of nine much-needed military specialists).
Some have made facile comparison of this recent attack to the attack last September on the African Union mission base in Haskanita (North Darfur). But this earlier attack had as its motive the taking of weapons and supplies from an AU force that had long been perceived by the rebels as siding with Khartoum, particularly in the exclusion from ceasefire meetings of rebels groups not party to the ill-conceived Abuja peace agreement. Indeed, in the case of Haskanita the attacking rebels—not one of the major factions, but probably an ad hoc collaboration of breakaway elements—may have mistakenly believed that the AU post was passing on bombing coordinates for rebel positions to Khartoum’s regular military forces.
But however irresponsible the rebels have been—and they have a fearsome list of offenses to answer for—all the larger factions urgently want a larger UN security presence, to protect both civilians and humanitarians. Rebel leader Abdel Wahid el-Nur, who still has an enormous following in the camps for displaced persons, has made such a security presence his condition for participating in any renewed peace talks. The Sudan Liberation Movement/Unity—with forces closest to the location attacked—is also the most responsible of the rebel factions, and well realizes that this attack is a disaster for the people of Darfur.
As one aid worker declared in an interview with a regional reporter for the Washington Post:
“It’s not being taken as just another attack,” said one aid worker, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak on the record. “This was much bigger than anything that’s happened before. People are quite worried about what will happen next.” (Washington Post [dateline: Nairobi], July 10, 2008)
However misguided rebel actions have been, however shamefully culpable in the hijackings of humanitarian vehicles, no major rebel faction—certainly none capable of a large-scale military operation—has any rational motive for the kind of attack that occurred on July 8. It is pure mendacity for Khartoum’s state ministry to declare that, “the aim of the rebels had been to ‘destabilise the region and prove it is not safe'” (BBC, July 10, 2008).
In fact, it is the Khartoum regime that has relentlessly delayed, obstructed, and harassed UNAMID forces and logistics, seeking to preserve a deadly insecurity throughout Darfur. It is Khartoum’s regular military forces that deliberately attacked a UNAMID convoy in West Darfur this past January (for a detailed account of this attack, and the evidence that it was premeditated, see http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article200.html). It is the Khartoum regime that has waged a relentless war of attrition against UNAMID, its African Union predecessor, and the humanitarian organizations that both peacekeeping missions were supposed to protect (the AU mission only with a creative reading of a mandate that was severely constrained by Khartoum).
Notably, Khartoum’s military forces have also recently suffered a significant defeat at rebel hands. And in the perverse logic of a genocide by attrition, an inability to defeat the rebels militarily—of which this attack provides more clear evidence—argues for destruction by other means, i.e., attacks on humanitarians, civilians, and peacekeepers:
Rebels ambushed the Sudanese army in northern Darfur and killed 157 soldiers, said a press statement issued on Saturday evening. The Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) Unity Command said its troops ambushed a mechanical battalion from the Sudan Armed Forces in a route between Gasat Jamat and al-Towasha near Um Kadada in North Darfur. (Sudan Tribune, July 5, 2008)
There is little reason to doubt the basic military claim here, though of course no way to confirm it either. But SLM/Unity has by far the best record for accuracy among the rebel groups, and its commanders understand the importance of their continuing credibility. Such continued military losses make it less likely that Khartoum will seek to confront rebel forces directly (especially SLM/Unity), and more likely it will stay with its policy of ethnically-targeted civilian destruction. “Drain the swamp” by whatever genocidal means are necessary to “catch the fish.”
CONSEQUENCES OF THE JANJAWEED ATTACK ON UNAMID
While international news attention has shifted from this extraordinarily brutal and brazen attack on UN peacekeepers to the impending announcements from the International Criminal Court (ICC), it is important to realize that much will follow from the attack itself. This is true even if, as some speculate, the attack was in some ways timed as a response to the ICC announcements concerning the responsibility of senior National Islamic Front (National Congress Party) officials for atrocity crimes in Darfur. The Washington Post and others have reported, on the basis of what seem highly authoritative diplomatic sources, that among those for whom arrest warrants will be sought is NIF President Omar al-Bashir, and that the charges will include genocide and crimes against humanity.
It may very soon be impossible to sort out the consequences of the July 8 attack on UNAMID and the consequences of announcements made by ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo on July 14. Reports indicate that a number of Security Council members and other international actors (including the Arab League and the African Union) are lobbying Moreno Ocampo to call off his announcement; and that failing this, some Security Council members will seek to invoke Article 16 of the Rome Statute in order to postpone for a year any further arrest efforts by Moreno Ocampo. Such expediency—even if entails burying charges against senior officials responsible for genocide and other crimes that have now claimed some half a million lives—seems to have considerable chance of success at the UN Security Council. But Moreno Ocampo is very unlikely to yield to expediency; and in advance of his July 14 announcement, we may do some accounting of consequences.
In the wake of the July 8 attack, UNAMID will be forced to reconfigure and concentrate its forces, dramatically reduce its patrol and investigating operations, and focus more on protecting itself than the civilians and humanitarians it is mandated to protect. Additional UNAMID deployment of resources and personnel will slow and perhaps halt. Some nations are likely to reconsider their commitments of troops or police. Despite brave words from the African Union, it is not clear how the force will improve on its dismal deployment record to date: not a single new battalion has deployed since the UN formally took over the “hybrid” mission January 1, and fewer than 300 miscellaneous personnel have joined a force that is little more than the predecessor African Union mission with blue helmets (indeed, in some cases the AU green helmets have simply been painted UN blue). The “hybrid” concept, a profoundly ill-considered concession to Khartoum, is proving disastrous in practice.
A battalion from Egypt and another from Ethiopia were to have deployed in March or earlier. Much of their equipment and supplies remains, unreleased, in Port Sudan; much is stuck in el-Obeid in Kordofan. Equipment, even if released from Port Sudan, will take two months to transport to Darfur. Just shy of the first anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1769 (July 31, 2007), which authorized UNAMID deployment under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter—with a clear mandate to protect civilians and humanitarian workers—virtually nothing has changed except the color of helmets already on the ground. UNAMID is failing, and if it does not soon gain the confidence of Darfuris, its failure will be complete.
It will be a failure not on the part of the courageous soldiers and police who have put their lives on the line, but of the international community—a failure to provide UNAMID with the necessary equipment, transport resources, logistics, and manpower. And ultimately it will reflect a failure to confront Khartoum over its relentless, obdurate, and deadly refusal to accept UN-authorized protection forces. This failure goes back to August 2006, when security was still not hopelessly compromised throughout Darfur, and the UN Security Council authorized (Resolution 1706, August 31, 2006) a robust force of 22,500 UN troops and civilian police. If deployed in timely and robust fashion, much of the subsequent deterioration in security could have been avoided, and tens of thousands of lives saved. But the sad history of the international community is one of accommodating Khartoum’s gnocidaires, soon to be charged as such. Resolution 1706 was abandoned by the UN Secretariat less than a month after its passage.
Because of insecurity that has grown steadily since the failure of Resolution 1706, humanitarian organizations, both UN and nongovernmental, face extremely difficult decisions about whether to remain in Darfur. Non-essential UN personnel face imminent withdrawal, as the UN has raised its security warning to the highest level (IV) before full-scale evacuation (V):
“The security level has gone to phase four. That means all internationally recruited staff who are not directly concerned with emergency or humanitarian relief operations or security matters are relocated,” said [UNAMID spokeswoman] Shereen Zorba. (Agence France Presse [dateline: Khartoum], July 12, 2008)
Level IV security is without precedent during the time that UNAMID has been deployed.
All US Agency for International Development personnel have been withdrawn from Darfur. And individual nongovernmental humanitarian organizations are in the throes of agonizing decisions about whether to curtail further their already severely attenuated operations. The Janjaweed assault on UNAMID, clearly countenanced (if not ordered) by Khartoum, makes clear that security will continue to deteriorate. Some humanitarian organizations will simply not be able to hold out any longer. For UNAMID, rather than expanding security for humanitarians, will now be even less likely to provide escorts or protection in more remote locations. Already excessively cautious in escorting humanitarian workers, UNAMID will reduce risk of further attacks by using safer routes, greater manpower and firepower per mission—and in many cases simply refusing to venture into volatile areas.
JUSTICE FOR THE UNAMID PERSONNEL KILLED AND WOUNDED?
Even as many at the UN seem prepared to abandon the ICC at its moment of greatest need, we hear various calls for “justice” in the wake of the attack on UNAMID—both at the UN and from international actors who are actually working to undermine the efforts of the ICC. The UN Security Council has condemned the attack in “the strongest possible terms,” and “call[ed] for the perpetrators to be brought to justice” (Security Council statement, July 9, 2008). But members of the Security Council now know, because of UN Undersecretary Guéhenno’s authoritative briefing, that the “perpetrators” are Janjaweed militia—armed, recruited, and often directed by Khartoum. Indeed, the most notorious Janjaweed leader, Musa Hilal, was earlier this year brought into the NIF regime to coordinate efforts to regain the cooperation of disaffected Janjaweed militia, especially in North Darfur where the attack on UNAMID occurred (see my analysis of this appointment at The New Republic, http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article202.html). It is a grim irony indeed that some of the very members who call disingenuously for “justice” on this occasion are actively working to subvert the pursuit of meaningful justice by the ICC.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a moment of similar disingenuousness, has called on Khartoum “to do its utmost to ensure the perpetrators are swiftly identified and brought to justice” (Statement of the UN Secretary General, July 9, 2008). But not only is the Khartoum regime itself ultimately responsible for the actions of the “perpetrators,” the regime has gone out of its way to make clear it feels no responsibility in the wake of an attack by its militia proxy. Rejecting Ban’s demand, the regime’s foreign ministry spokesman Ali al-Sadiq declared contemptuously:
“The peacekeeping forces in Darfur are under the umbrella of the United Nations and the African Unionthe responsibilities of the government [of Sudan] are limited to cooperate and to coordinate with North Darfur authorities.” (Sudan Tribune, July 10, 2008)
Such contempt is the hallmark of all Khartoum’s responses to international efforts to bring the Janjaweed under control. Although the regime has promised on many occasions to disarm this fearsome weapon of mass destruction, it has never taken a single step to do so. Some argue glibly that the regime simply cannot control the monster it has created. But the rejoinder must be that we can’t know because the regime has never made the slightest effort to do so. Moreover, in the brutal scorched-earth campaign north of el-Geneina (West Darfur) this past February, Khartoum’s regular military forces again worked hand-in-glove with the Janjaweed, killing hundreds of civilians and displacing many tens of thousands. All evidence, including the appointment of Musa Hilal, makes clear that Khartoum continues to regard the Janjaweed (now recycled into various paramilitary guises) as an essential weapon in its genocidal counter-insurgency war.
Nor is there any reason to believe that a commitment made now to control or disarm the Janjaweed would have any meaning. Khartoum made its first promise concerning the Janjaweed over four years ago (July 3, 2004, Khartoum), in a “Joint Communiqué” signed by then-Secretary General Kofi Annan and senior NIF officials, who “committed” to disarming the Janjaweed. This and subsequent “commitments,” including those within the spineless security protocol of the Darfur Peace Agreement, have meant nothing. Nor has the posturing of the international community impressed Khartoum. On July 30, 2004 the UN Security Council “demanded” (Resolution 1556) that the regime disarm the Janjaweed and bring its leaders to “justice.” This “demand” has, over the course of four years, also meant nothing, encouraging Khartoum to believe that all UN “demands” and pronouncements are vacuous. It is all too apparent that when it comes to the Janjaweed, the UN considers “justice” a perfunctory matter—the subject of expedient exhortation, not serious action. And so it is with the present politically convenient demands that “justice” be sought for the victims of the July 8 attack on UNAMID.
THE FUTURE OF UNAMID
Last November, Undersecretary Guhenno asked the essential question, one that inevitably answered itself:
“Do we move ahead with the deployment of a force that will not make a difference, that will not have the capability to defend itself and that carries the risk of humiliation of the Security Council and the United Nations and tragic failure for the people of Darfur?”
The force and urgency of the question have not diminished; indeed, with the July 8 attack on UNAMID the question is not only posed anew, but we have been given to see just how close to “tragic failure” we are. Without the most urgent and robust support of UNAMID—in the coming weeks, not months—Darfuris will lose all hope. Many already have. With enormous human consequences, operational humanitarian organizations will be forced to abandon Darfur. The question before the international community, the question forced by Guhenno’s stark assessment, is not, “How will we respond if Khartoum takes the ICC announcements badly?” Rather, the real question is—as it long has been—whether the international community is willing to put serious, consequential pressure on Khartoum to end its war of attrition against UNAMID, humanitarian organizations, and the more than 4 million civilians dependent upon humanitarian assistance.
Failure is on the very near horizon.