We went on the road today with African Union peacekeepers in Darfur, Sudan ... you know, those 7,000 ill-equipped and undermanned troops who are supposed to police an area the size of Texas.
The United Nation's top diplomat in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, told us that some of the units have to cook their own food. How are you supposed to keep the peace when you're worrying whose turn it is to cook? They're also seriously under-equipped in terms of firepower. And the few helicopters they have don't even have enough fuel to fly troops in and out of difficult-to-reach places, the UN's top man told us. And this is their mandate: Shoot ONLY if shot at -- this in one of the most lawless and unforgiving regions on earth.
Well, we were about to find out just how undermanned and ill-equipped they are on this day. We were on patrol with them to a town called Tawiya, recent scene of heavy fighting that forced more than 15,000 civilians to flee their homes. Add that to the roughly 2.5 million internally displaced people, a polite term for refugees in their own country.
Halfway into the trip, the radios started crackling (at least they have radios). There was trouble up ahead and they had to turn back and avoid a confrontation like they had a couple of weeks ago when nearly a dozen of them were killed in a gun battle with anti-government forces. Imagine what this does to morale. Battle-hardened soldiers forced to turn back because the "bad guys" up ahead are better equipped. It' enough to demoralize any troops, and these African Union troops are fast getting demoralized.
The bottom line, their commander told me: He needs twice as many troops, plenty of logistics support, lots of harware and free access to the air, something the Sudanese government is completely opposed to. And to think that these are the soldiers that stand in the way of Africa's second genocide in a little over a decade. They don't appear to stand a chance.