NATO extends training for African peacekeepers in Sudan

NATO allies have extended a training program for African peacekeepers in Darfur until September but are not planning for any major deployment of their own troops to the violence-wracked Sudanese region, the alliance's operational commander said Monday.

The NATO training mission for officers of the African Union peacekeeping force had been due to end this month, but the 25 allies agreed late last week to extend the program, said U.S. Gen. James L. Jones, NATO's supreme commander for operations.

Jones told reporters that alliance military experts are working on plans to increase training and "capacity building" to back up the 7,000-strong African peacekeeping force. NATO is also providing planes to fly in African peacekeepers.

The United States has been pushing for a wider NATO role in the region, where the ill-equipped AU force has failed to end violence that has left more than 180,000 people dead over the past three years and driven millions more from their homes.

Washington would like to see increased NATO help to the Africans with logistics, communications, transport, planning, intelligence and training.

A senior NATO official said the U.S. proposal would put an unspecified number of embedded trainers and other alliance specialists on the ground in Darfur in support of the African Union, but not in a front-line, combat role.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of a meeting of NATO foreign ministers Thursday and Friday in Sofia, Bulgaria, where Darfur is likely to loom large.

Many allies are wary of sending any significant number of European and North American troops. They fear it could inflame regional sensitivities particularly if the mainly Muslim Sudanese government opposes a NATO deployment, reports AP.

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