Despite recent U.S. diplomatic efforts to encourage Sudan to negotiate with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), the fighting continues in Sudan’s Blue Nile and South Kordofan states. In several areas in South Kordofan, the SPLM-N has fought the Sudanese Army (Sudanese Armed Forces, SAF) to a draw. For insurgents, a battlefield stalemate is a first step toward victory. Why? Because it means the insurgents have staying power. The last thing the Sudanese government needs is another embedded, interminable war.
Sudan’s economic situation remains precarious. For a year and a half the government has confronted demonstrations and unrest in its major cities (especially Khartoum), and the dreadful economic situation is the biggest source of anger. How has the SPLM-N survived? The bottom line reason is that they have soldiers who know how to fight. Veterans of the long-running civil war provide the core of the SPLM-N’s guerrilla army. The rebel leaders also primarily operate in the Nuba Mountains and utilize its rugged terrain. They know they cannot match the Sudanese Army’s artillery, armor, and air advantages in South Kordofan’s lowlands and the SPLM-N’s most important strategic goal is to avoid defeat. The rebel leaders have also attracted new, committed recruits who believe they are fighting for their personal and tribal survival. Several sources estimate the SPLM-N has around 30,000 fighters in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states. The fighters also seem to have sufficient arms and ammunition to conduct limited offensive operations. The Sudanese government believes South Sudan provides the equipment and supplies and ritually accuses the South Sudan government of providing the SPLM-N with military weapons and material support. South Sudan vehemently denies the charges. However, the battlefield stalemate indicates that the SPLM-N is at the minimum receiving ammo and other expendable supplies from someone, somewhere.
SPLM-N commanders claim the battlefield is their supply depot. They say that Sudanese soldiers and special police readily abandon their gear. The rebels have also overrun several Sudanese Army garrisons. The attacks are, of course, attacks on enemy soldiers but the commander’s underlying goal could be to capture weaponry. Essentially, the garrison attacks are armed re-supply operations. Insurgents everywhere have always used the tactic of picking up discarded enemy weapons.
For the SPLM-N seizing ammunition and medical supplies is likely more important than obtaining weapons. Many (most) Sudanese and South Sudanese militias and rebel units did not disarm after the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). Many of the militias are tribal-based militias and the tribes were reluctant to disarm. In fact, they know better than to disarm. The SPLM-N certainly had access to hidden caches of weapons, probably stored in the Nuba Mountains. Ammunition, however, gets expended and ammo re-supply is a must.
The SLM-N has captured some Sudanese Army heavy weapons, and not just heavy infantry support weapons (medium and heavy mortars, heavy machine guns, recoilless rifles, etc). In early 2012 a captured Sudanese tank, under the control of SPLM-N rebels, appeared on an internet video. Tanks need fuel and maintenance (lots of maintenance). The fuel can be stolen. Properly maintaining tanks, however, takes skilled mechanics, spare parts, and heavy maintenance equipment. A guerrilla outfit could conceivably gather the talents and equipment and provide a reasonably secure area for the maintenance crew. But it is tough to do, especially since the Sudanese Air Force controls the skies. (Austin Bay)
March 9, 2013: The U.S. government congratulated Sudan and South Sudan for signing the technical agreement establishing a demilitarized zone between the two nations. Meanwhile, South Sudan claimed that the Sudanese Army launched two ground attacks this past week. On March 6 and 7 Sudanese Army forces attacked villages in South Sudan’s Northern Bahr al Ghazal state. South Sudan claimed that four people were killed and several thousand people fled the area.
Sudan issued a statement that is somewhat at odds with the African Union’s description of the withdrawal timelines. Sudan claimed that orders to pullout of the new demilitarized zone will be issued on March 10. According to Sudan, the actual withdrawal will begin on March 14 and must be completed by March 21.
March 8, 2013: South Sudan and Sudan have once again agreed to create a buffer zone, but this time the agreement specifically calls for immediate and unconditional withdrawals. The Safe Demilitarized Border Zone (SDBZ) will be 20 kilometers wide. The opposing forces will begin to withdraw from the zone on March 10 and must complete their withdrawal by March 15. Peacekeepers from the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) will verify the withdrawals.
March 6, 2013: Darfur rebels claimed that a pro-Sudan government militia stole over 100 head of cattle from displaced civilians living in refugee camps in the Mershing region of South Darfur state.
The Darfur rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudan Liberation Movement-Minni Minawi (SLM-MM) rebel group claimed that they launched a joint attack on the Sudanese Army in North Darfur state. The rebels claimed they killed 25 government soldiers. The rebels also seized two armed Land Cruisers (technical vehicles). The battle took place in the Kuim area.
March 5, 2013: South Sudanese security forces have launched an offensive operation against the rebel militia loyal to renegade officer David Yau Yau. The operation began in Jonglei state on March 4. South Sudanese forces claimed they killed 28 fighters in several clashes. South Sudan said that Yau Yau’s group ambushed an attacking South Sudanese unit on March 4. Five South Sudanese soldiers were slain in the ambush and ten were wounded.
March 3, 2013: Forces belonging to the Darfur rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) reported that they attacked Sudanese soldiers in the Wad Bahr area of North Kordofan state. The JEM is an ally of the SPLM-N. The two rebel groups are the main groups under the rebel political umbrella organization, the Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF).
March 1, 2013: The SPLM-N claimed that over one million people have suffered during the fighting in Blue Nile and South Kordofan states. The Blue Nile and South Kordofan wars began in June 2011.
February 26, 2013: Mohamed Bashar’s splinter faction of the Darfur rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) has added a new demand to its ceasefire deal with Sudan. The Bashar militia is claiming that the Darfur region should receive at least five percent of the revenue from oil produced by Dafuri fields. The current pay-out is two percent and Bashar’s faction says that is not enough revenue to develop the poorest areas in Darfur. The tiny faction is making the most of its political notoriety.
February 25, 2013: A member of Sudan’s parliament claimed that fighting in the mining region of El Sireaf in North Darfur state has killed 510 people since it began in mid-January, with another 865 injured in the turmoil. The parliamentarian also claimed that 68 villages have been completely destroyed and 120 more have been severely damaged by the fighting. Most of the destruction was wrought by fires. The parliamentarian, Adam Sheikha, represents the El Sireaf region.
February 24, 2013: The Sudanese government reported that an attack in North Darfur state left over 60 people dead. Armed tribal fighters attacked a village in the El Sireaf area of North Darfur. The attacking force used armed vehicles and fighters mounted on camels.
The SPLM-N claimed that its fighters had attacked and entered the city of Kurmuk (Blue Nile state). Kurmuk is on the Sudan-Ethiopia border. The SPLM-N also claimed that it had liberated the town of Mufu (southwest of Kurmuk). Sudan denied that the SPLM-N had broken into the city. In mid-2011 the SPLM-N took control of Kurmuk. Sudanese forces captured the city in November 2011.
February 22, 2013: The UN-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) issued a statement praising the Sudanese government and Mohamed Bashar’s faction of the Darfur rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) for reaching a ceasefire agreement. The deal was signed on February 10. The UN now wants the government and Bashar’s group to negotiate a comprehensive peace settlement. Since the agreement, however, the main faction of the JEM has taken the position that the ceasefire agreement by the Bashar’s tiny splinter group is meaningless. One JEM spokesman claimed that Bashar’s faction has not been engaged in active operations. Bashar’s faction broke with the mainline JEM in September 2011.
February 20, 2013: South Sudan claimed that 53 South Sudanese citizens who have homes in Sudan’s South Kordofan state (village of Kokab) were attacked by a Misseriya tribe militia force on February 9. The refugees then fled south to the South Sudanese town of Ariath (in South Sudan’s Northern Bahr al-Ghazal state). The refugees hid in brush and thickly forested areas to avoid being captured or killed by pursuers. Their flight took ten days, hence the lag in reporting the attack. The refugees reported that the Misseriya raiders killed several dozen people. The attack replicates the methods used by the Sudanese government to attack villages in Darfur. The Misseriya tribe is a pro-north, Arabized tribe. During the civil war the Misseriya regularly conducted raids on southern sympathizers. The raids followed the same script as the attack on Kokab. Ethnic cleansing? Yes.
February 19, 2013: Sudan claimed that its forces had taken control of the Mufu area in Blue Nile state.
February 18, 2013: The SPLM-N denied that the Sudanese Army had killed 86 rebel fighters in a battle near the town of Mufu (Blue Nile state, southwest of Kurmuk).
February 17, 2013: The SPLM-N accused the Sudanese Army of launching a dry season military offensive southwest of Kurmuk (Blue Nile state).