BRUSSELS, Belgium - NATO has decided to airlift African peacekeeping troops into Sudan's war-torn Darfur region, the first mission for the Atlantic alliance in Africa, senior NATO and U.S. officials said yesterday.
The decision follows months of stalemate in European capitals over whether NATO should become involved in Darfur, where an estimated 180,000 people have died from disease, hunger and fighting since a civil war began in 2003.
A senior Pentagon official confirmed that U.S. airplanes would participate in the NATO mission, which could begin within weeks. The timing of the first airlift is being worked out, but NATO is expected to officially endorse the mission today at the alliance's annual gathering of defense ministers.
"I don't know when precisely we will be moving the troops," said a senior NATO diplomat, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity because the decision had not been announced. But he added: "The expansion of this mission is an urgent requirement in order to protect the people of Darfur."
The two officials said NATO would also provide logistical support to help the African peacekeeping troops run a headquarters for the operation.
The African Union has nearly 2,300 peacekeeping troops in Darfur trying to maintain a fragile cease-fire. But the African Union said it is hoping to add 5,000 troops, and in April asked NATO and the European Union for assistance flying peacekeepers into Darfur.
The African Union's request set off a turf battle over who should provide the assistance. The United States advocated a NATO mission, while other nations - notably France - argued that the mission should operate independently of the United States and be conducted under a European Union flag.
Now, officials say the two organizations will run separate airlift operations but will coordinate with each other.
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.