In April 2012, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) declared its readiness to deploy 3,000 troops to northern Mali in response to seizures of territory by Tuareg separatists and Islamist militias. Left unanswered was the question of how ECOWAS would transport these troops and their equipment to Mali. Only airlift resources would be able to deliver personnel and heavy equipment into the area of operations (AO) in a timely manner, provide operational mobility within the AO against dispersed and heavily armed irregular forces, monitor a geographic area larger than France, and sustain operations for months or years. The inability to respond to these challenges to territorial control, in turn, further emboldens such separatists and other spoilers.
Similar challenges are faced in other inaccessible contexts of instability in Africa, including Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Darfur, Sudan, where poor roads and rugged terrain make convoys slow, ineffective, and vulnerable to landmines or ambush. In certain cases, the government or rebel fighters may deny peacekeepers and aid workers access to land-based infrastructure, making air transport the only viable method of moving personnel and supplies.
For each African Union (AU) peacekeeping mission over the past decade, the AU has been required to engage in complex and lengthy negotiations with international partners to secure the airlift assets needed to transport African troops and material into and out of the AO. These delays often occur at the height of a crisis, precluding decisive action and putting civilian lives at increased risk.