NATO's Toe in the Darfur Crisis

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Two years after civil war began in Sudan's Darfur region - leaving 1.8 million people uprooted and perhaps 160,000 dead - pieces of a solution are starting to fall into place.

International efforts to end this tragedy in Africa's largest nation, however, aren't thorough enough. Roving Arab militias still attack, although less often; and these armed men on camels and horses still appear to be receiving help from Sudan's government, although not direct Army support in the attacks.

Without peace imposed there soon by outsiders, the world will need to bear the costs of huge refugee camps in and near Darfur - one of the largest humanitarian crises in recent decades - because few refugees will want to return home.

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The latest piece of a solution is a decision last week by the African Union (AU) to triple its troops in Darfur to 7,700 and ask NATO for logistical support. Even that additional foreign presence in a region the size of France wouldn't be enough, but it shows confidence is growing that outside intervention can be effective.

Sudan's government tacitly approves NATO's potential role in Darfur, but France, which has preferred a strictly European role in Africa's crises, may be ready to shoot down this request of NATO by African nations.

So far, France has preferred to deal with Darfur by weaker measures, such as UN Security Council steps to impose sanctions on Sudan and put Darfur's attackers on trial (if they can be caught). These have been inadequate. Only by backing AU troops with essential NATO planes and other equipment can the Arab militia, known as Janjaweed, be intimidated to give up for good.

NATO's post-cold-war role has yet to be defined. It wasn't included in the antiterrorism invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Now it has a chance for a limited role in an African conflict. The US would like more NATO intervention on the continent - perhaps with the AU leading - to keep failing states from becoming home to terrorist groups. If France again fails to back the US in such ventures, NATO itself may wither and bilateral ties worsen.

Darfur can't be made whole without more money; troops,;and a more united, international effort. The UN can do only so much without the added might of Western powers and a bigger role for African troops.

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