RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — Three months after officially taking over the air component of U.S. Africa Command, 17th Air Force is overseeing its first major operation on the African continent.

On Monday, two C-17s from Travis Air Force Base, Calif., were en route to Ramstein, where air crews were to receive intelligence, safety and mission briefings from 17th Air Force staff before heading to Kigali, Rwanda.

The transport planes will be used to airlift nine 21,000-ton multi-use U.N.-marked trucks and other heavy equipment into Sudan’s Darfur region.

There has been unrest in the region since rebels took up arms in Darfur in early 2003, citing neglect and marginalization by the central government.

Attempts to bring the warring parties to the negotiating table or to broker cease-fires have failed, and so far up to 300,000 people have died and 2.7 million have fled their homes.

Over the past six months, an additional 100,000 people have been displaced by fighting and insecurity, and aid workers still struggle to reach the needy under very difficult conditions, the U.N.’s peacekeeping chief, Alain Le Roy, told the U.N. Security Council in late December.

In an interview Monday, Maj. Timothy D. Voss, 17th Air Force chief of current operations division, said, "The Rwandan Defense Force needs these (trucks) to execute peacekeeping. These are large diesels with cranes on the back to assist with moving other pieces of equipment there in the region."

Seventeenth Air Force, also known as U.S. Air Forces Africa, stood up at Ramstein in October. It’s charged with planning and carrying out U.S. military air operations in Africa to support the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur, among other responsibilities.

Planning for the mission began in September after the United Nations requested support from the U.S. State Department for the joint African Union-U.N. peacekeeping force, which has struggled with a lack of transport capacity.

While the State Department has contracted out for the bulk of the mission, the Air Force’s heavy cargo airlift capabilities were called on to haul the biggest pieces of humanitarian equipment some 1,000-plus miles from Kigali to Darfur.

With no good roads from "Point A to Point B" and a lack of roadside gas stations, airlift was the only viable means of transportation, 17th Air Force officials said, noting that the Defense Department is paying for the transport.

Awaiting the C-17s in Kigali are a team of 11 airmen from Travis, who arrived earlier this month to prepare the vehicles for airlift while also training the Rwanda Defense Force for the job.

Col. Lida Dahnke, who’s overseeing the Kigali mission from 17th Air Force headquarters, said many groups as well as other military units and countries were involved in the planning.

The biggest challenge was "making sure you know who to contact and which organization is involved."

The command doesn’t have any permanently assigned aircraft.

"The fact we don’t own forces is the complicating factor and we have to take that into account for the planning," said Maj. Greg Lococo, 17th Air Force chief of operational plans division.

But, he added, the process seems to be working so far.

author picture
Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now