Sudan: December 23, 2004


: To withdraw or not to withdraw-- that is the government's question. Actually, we don't think the government is Hamlet. Sudan told the UN, African Union, and the Darfur rebels last week that it would cease military operations in Darfur and withdraw its military forces. Of course it didn't happen. The government constantly plays this game of diplomatic "peace talk" while continuing to pursue "ethnic cleansing" warfare. In the case of south Sudan, peace only came when the SPLA began to: (1) win on the ground and (2) threaten Sudan's oil fields. Reports indicate that at the same time the government said it was withdrawing its forces from Darfur, air force aircraft bombed a village in Darfur and the army continued to move its forces into Darfur. The army was attacking the town of Labado (in South Darfur) on December 17. An international aid worker (from Doctors Without Borders, a medical NGO) was slain in that battle. Refugees from these battles eventually show up at camps in Chad and tell NGO workers what they have seen. Most governmental and NGO reports, however, agree that violence isnt the biggest killerdisease and famine promoted by the violence are the biggest killers. The World Health Organization estimates the number of people killed by disease and famine in the Darfur region since March 2004 is 70,000.

How does the Sudanese military operate in Darfur? Perhaps the best way to answer this is to look at how the Sudanese military operated in south Sudan . Regular military units and security police occupied key villages, towns, crossroads, and economic sites (oil fields). Regular military units would occasionally fight southern Sudans SPLA guerrillas. The "ethnic cleansing" of Christian and animist black Africans was usually handled by tribal "militias." This created a tribal type warfare. The SPLA is by no means a Dinka tribal organization, but the Dinka tribe is a major supplier of manpower and leadership to the SPLA.) These militias were sometimes called "Islamist" or "Muslim" militias. These militias were paid by the Sudanese government and also made money from plundering their victims' villages. The militias were also accused of slaving. When south Sudanese tribes began describing Islamist militia violence and slaving in the late 1980s many Western journalists were dubious-- not necessarily dubious about the violence but dubious about the slaving allegations. Over the next ten years, however, numerous western religious and news organizations confirmed the selling of captives. Calling this slavery wasn't out of line at all. The way the Islamist militias were organized and deployed also told an old but relevant story: the Sudanese government used both religious and tribal divisions to prosecute the war against the SPLA and other south Sudanese rebels. 

Khartoum is definitely using a similar mix of militia and regular Sudanese military forces out west in Darfur. Confirmed reports place Sudanese Army and security police at airfields in Darfur and along major transportation routes. Darfurian refugees often report that they were attacked by militias or irregular forces (for example, the so-called Janjaweed), not Sudanese regular forces. The Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) in the Darfur region (dont confuse it with the SPLA in the south) is a political and military coalition drawn from the three largest ethnic groups in Darfur -- the Fur, Zaghawa and the Masaleet. The Fur are the region's most numerous ethnic group. Dar indicates land. Darfur is shorthand for land of the Fur tribe. The Fur, Zaghawa, and Masaleet are usually described as African (black) Muslims and many are subsistence farmers. NGO sources report that nomadic Arab Muslim tribes from Northern Darfur man the Janjaweed militias. This is why the fighting in Darfur is sometimes characterized as nomad versus farmer. However, one NGO source claims the Sudanese government is paying the nomads the equivalent of $80 a month perhaps more if they can provide a horse or a camelto serve in the Janjaweed militia.

Sudanese Internet sources claim that Sudan has a significant military presence in North, South, and West Darfur. What this means in terms of actual units and number of personnel is decidedly unclear. If someone in the Sudanese Army wants to send StrategyPage an email with this information, please feel free to do so. In West Darfur, the Army has units of 500 to 600 troops (battalions). Given the size of the region, the number of key transportation routes and transportation nodes the Army must secure, 12 to 15 battalions would be a minimum number. That suggests deployed regular forces of at least 20,000 to 25,000 troops (accounting for support and transportation as well as security and combat units). Again, treat this as a minimum figure; given the low-level of training and reliability we've seen in Sudanese forces, there are probably more troops on the ground. Given that SLA and JEM rebels claim to deploy several hundred fighters in pitched battles against the Sudanese Army, a figure of 40,000 Sudanese government forces might be more realistic. As for the number of Janjaweed militamen? The sad truth is that a few committed killers operating as horse-borne or truck-borne raiders-- can kill a lot of unprotected civilians. The Sudanese government could be using as few as 3,000 to 5,000 militiamen in its campaign to destroy villages that the Sudanese government believes are supporting the rebels. This is a "best guess" given the general lack of data, but an arguably accurate ballpark figure, considering the tactics and weapons employed, and the relative defenselessness of most Sudanese villages. --Austin Bay




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