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Three U.S. Air Force C-130 cargo planes loaded with a total of about 150 airmen deployed Saturday from U.S. bases in Europe for Kigali, Rwanda, as part of an ongoing mission to shuttle African peacekeeping troops and supplies to the troubled Darfur region of Sudan, an official said.

The planes left Ramstein Air Base in Germany, and RAF Mildenhall, England, and will be used to transport about 1,200 Rwandan soldiers to the western Sudanese region over the next several weeks, U.S. European Command spokeswoman Army Maj. Holly Silkman said Saturday.

On Thursday, a Ramstein-based C-17 Globemaster III cargo aircraft left for Kigali, which has been set up as the logistics hub in the region for troops and humanitarian aid supplies, Silkman said.

The mission, the second for U.S. forces since October, is part of EUCOM’s contribution to NATO’s response to support the African Union’s mission in Darfur. The region has experienced of one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises over the past two years. More than 2 million people have been displaced and at least 180,000 have died in what the U.S. government has described as genocide.

On June 9, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer announced that the alliance would help the African Union expand its peacekeeping force in Darfur from about 3,300 troops to about 7,700 troops in the coming months.

“NATO requested EUCOM’s assistance and we said ‘of course,’” Silkman said.

The U.S. military has allocated about $20.5 million for logistical assistance to support the peacekeeping mission, she said.

The Darfur mission is part of a NATO, European Union and African Union effort to quell the unrest and provide humanitarian aid.

The French have set up a refueling point in Abeche, Chad, and are providing fuel for the missions, Silkman said.

“And, should we require it … they will provide reconnaissance and recovery personnel and assets,” Silkman said.

The ferrying of the Rwandan troops from Kigali to Al Fashir, Sudan, should take about two weeks, though troops are prepared to be deployed as long as 30 days, Silkman said.

In October, about 120 U.S. Air Forces in Europe airmen and two C-130 aircraft from Ramstein deployed to Africa to conduct a similar mission. By mission’s end, the C-130s had carried about 352 African Union troops and 118,000 pounds of cargo, according to a EUCOM press release.

Rwanda, Nigeria and Senegal all have provided troops to help quell the unrest in the Darfur region, with the latter of the three countries providing its own airlift.

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