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U.S. begins Darfur supply flights

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  • U.S. Air Force begins mission supplying peacekeepers in Darfur, Sudan
  • Two flights carried vehicles, water purification systems, water trailers, tents
  • Kit destined for U.N.-African Union peacekeepers
  • It is first major mission for U.S. Africa Command
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(CNN) -- The U.S. Air Force has begun flying equipment into Darfur to support a United Nations-African Union peacekeeping mission in the war-ravaged Sudanese province, the military announced Wednesday.

Two giant C-17 Globemaster III aircraft made the trip from Kigali in Rwanda to Darfur, the statement said, each carrying about 30 tons of Rwandan equipment.

The United States is providing only transport, not personnel, for the peacekeeping mission.

The Air Force will transport more than 150 tons of equipment and supplies including nine oversized vehicles, water purification systems, water trailers, tents and spare parts, the Pentagon's new African command, Africom, said in the statement.

The flights are in support of a U.N. force called UNAMID, a joint operation between the United Nations and the African Union.

It took over from an African Union mission at the end of 2007, aiming to put an end to a fierce military campaign that has led to some 200,000 deaths and forced 2 million people to flee their homes, according to the United Nations.

The conflict in Darfur began in 2003.

Rwanda has four battalions of peacekeepers in Darfur, totaling 2,566 personnel, with a goal of increasing the peacekeeping force to 3,200, according to Major Jill Rutaremara, spokesman for the Rwandan Defense Forces (RDF).

President Bush announced the decision to airlift the equipment January 5, along with a plan separately to move 240 containers worth of heavy equipment into Darfur in support of the peacekeepers.

The Air Force mission represents the first large-scale peacekeeper support mission for U.S. Africa Command since it was formally activated October 1, 2008, the statement said.

Previous support missions in support of peacekeeping in Darfur were conducted under the direction of U.S. European Command, which had responsibility for Africa prior to the activation of U.S. Africa Command.

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