Intervening in Darfur would not be a simple matter of peacekeeping
SEAN M. MALONEY
A subtext to Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan this year is the argument the country should return to its alleged peacekeeping roots, pull out of Kandahar and intervene in the Darfur region of Sudan to halt a genocide that’s been in progress for years. Indeed, the Darfur saga has produced new high-profile champions for intervention, this time led by actor George Clooney. Though we have avoided the dreaded “CNN Effect” that drew us all into the Somalia debacle, vestiges of it remain to be activated by emotion unchecked with reason. And Sudan is an unreasonable place.
Even discounting the fact that such an intervention would not be “peacekeeping,” the complexity of such an enterprise has been woefully underestimated by those who demand it. Darfur, many forget, belongs to Sudan. It is not a remote, isolated statelet. It is the size of France. Darfur cannot be taken out of the context of Sudan or out of the problems that exist, and have existed for some time, in the region.
Many forget that Sudan was home of the 19th-century bin Laden prototype, Muhammad Ahmad, better known as the Mahdi. Mahdist Islamic extremists had to be put down by British forces in 1898, which derailed the Mahdist dream of a new pan-Arab caliphate. Sudan was an artificial creation of the 19th century, and in the end encapsulated the fault line between Arab Islam and black Africa. High school geography stu-
dents look at the continent of Africa in isolation, yet Mecca is right across the Red Sea from Sudan. Since independence in 1956, Sudan has been wracked with violence. In 1983, the government attempted to implement hardline Islamic law and was met with violence from the non-Islamic portions of the country, a conflict that Africa analyst Korwa Adar argues “has culminated in the loss of millions of lives, the exodus of millions of refugees, and widespread famine.” This was long, long before Darfur was an issue. It is important to understand, as longtime Africa observer Alex de Waal explains,
BIN LADEN DECLARED ANY ACTION IN DARFUR WOULD BE PART OF THE ‘ZIONIST-CRUSADER’ WAR. THEN THERE’S IRAN TO WORRY ABOUT.
that “the moral, political, and economic logic of the war as interpreted in Khartoum created a space where such near-genocidal motives and practices could flourish.” Canada’s attempt at putting a Band-Aid on this gaping wound involved the deployment in 1993 of a C-130 transport aircraft to assist the UN-supported Operation Lifeline Sudan, a relief mission which, it turned out, was used by the Sudanese government to deny food to those not in line with Khartoum’s demands. The war continued on all fronts and Canada withdrew.
Al-Qaeda slipped into this morass by 1992. Attracted by the Islamist credentials of the al-Bashir government, al-Qaeda quietly infiltrated Sudan and developed the same parasitical relationship that it would develop in 1996 with the Taliban in Afghanistan. This
included construction and road-building projects, plus humanitarian aid for Muslims only. Former U.S. ambassador Don Petterson noted that “bin Laden’s support for Islamist extremists’ terrorist organizations paralleled the clandestine support the Sudanese were providing.” This included training camps that supported insurgent operations against the UN-led effort in Somalia, which bin Laden in turn used to manipulate the Sudanese government, claiming Sudan was next for intervention. That was in 1993-
In 2006,10 years after al-Qaeda relocated to Afghanistan from Sudan, bin Laden declared that any operations in Darfur would constitute part of the “Zionist-Crusader war”: “I call on mujahedeen and their supporters, especially in Sudan and the Arab peninsula, to prepare for long war against the Crusader plunderers in western Sudan. Our goal is not defending the Khartoum government but to defend Islam, its land and its people.”
There are other players too, of an Iranian variety. Khartoum’s courting of Tehran has paid off. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ “Qods” special operations unit has established terrorist training camps in Sudan. Given Iran’s nuclear aspirations, is it possible that Tehran might wish to extend an “atomic umbrella” to deter intervention? Iran has also assisted the Sudanese air force. Indeed, in a bizarre twist, a Human Rights Watch investigation concluded that in the ’90s, pilots from Iraq flew combat missions against the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (which, incidentally, has been supported by humanitarian relief efforts and thus subject to government bombardment), and that Iraqi air force personnel even maintained the planes. That would be right out of Catch-22 if they were Iranian planes. Milo Minderbinder would be proud.
Advocates for intervention in Darfur need to be aware that the war against al-Qaeda is also superimposed on this complex situation. Operating from Djibouti and other locations, American-led forces from Operation Enduring Freedom are involved in operations designed to hunt down al-Qaeda cells throughout the region. They already demonstrated their reach when Predator aircraft were used to kill al-Qaeda leaders in Yemen in 2002. To suggest that Sudan is somehow off limits to covert and special operations activity would be naive. It will be impossible to delineate any intervention in Darfur from the larger war against al-Qaeda and other proponents of Islamic extremism. There will be casualties.
And no one will be able to say Canada wasn’t warned. M
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