Sudan: Rebels Reeling And Retreating


January 12, 2014: South Sudan’s forces have retaken Bentiu, the capital of Unity state. This counts as a major victory. Unity state is an oil-producing state. The rebels still hold Bor, the capital of Jonglei state. The government force south of Bor is being reinforced. Bor is 200 kilometers north of South Sudan’s capital, Juba.

The rebellion in South Sudan began late on the evening of December 15. So far the fighting has displaced 400,000 people with 350,000 remaining in South Sudan while 50,000 have fled to neighboring countries. Uganda has the most refugees, around 23,000 as of January 10. However, that number is going up as at least 3,000 refugees a day are arriving. The death toll is unknown, but it is estimated to be around 10,000 killed since December 15. By the first week of January about 65,000 refugees have collected around UNMISS (UN Mission in South Sudan) garrisons. The base at Juba has 17,000 refugees. Many of the refugees in Juba are Nuer tribespeople who insist that if they leave the UN garrison they will be attacked by Dinka soldiers loyal to the Salva Kiir government.

January 11, 2014: The Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) Darfur rebel organization denied accusations made by South Sudanese rebels that JEM fighters participated in the pro-South Sudan government force attack on the city of Bentiu (Unity state, South Sudan). A rebel source claimed that JEM fighters operating in technical vehicles (armed SUVs and four-wheel drive trucks) attacked Bentiu from the rear as rebel forces faced loyal SPLA units attacking from the direction of Mayom. The JEM does operate in Sudan’s South Kordofan fan, borders on South Sudan’s Unity state.

Several dozen South Sudanese Nuer fighters crossed the border and sought refuge in Sudan’s West Kordofan state. The fighters turned their weapons in to Sudanese security forces. The Nuer fighters had been battling pro-South Sudan forces in Unity state.

January 10, 2014: The South Sudan government said it had retaken Bentiu. Rebels confirmed that they had withdrawn from Bentiu in order to avoid civilian casualties.

The UN warned that other countries should not become involved in South Sudan’s fighting. The warning applies to Sudan but there are also rumors that Ugandan Army troops inside South Sudan have aided pro-government forces in operations against rebels. Rebels have also accused Uganda of launching an air strike on rebel forces near the town of Bor and lending the government an artillery unit. Uganda does possess a half-dozen Russian-made jet aircraft. However, Uganda denies the accusation. Uganda acknowledges that it has deployed a large military force in South Sudan but its soldiers are protecting and evacuating the 20,000 Ugandans living in Juba.

January 9, 2014: South Sudan claimed that its forces were on the outskirts of Bentiu. Another government force is 15 kilometers from Bor. Rebels in the Bentiu area have at least one operational main battle tank.

Negotiations continue between the South Sudan government (President Salva Kiir) and rebel (led by Riek Machar) factions. The negotiations are being held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Mabior Garang, son of SPLA found John Garang, is a member of the rebel delegation. The Garangs are Dinkas. Mabior Garang’s presence with the rebel delegation confirms reports that his mother, Rebecca Garang, has sided with Machar. John Garang died in a helicopter crash in 2005.

January 8, 2014: Some 8,000 refugees have sought protection in UN bases in and around the town of Bentiu.  A pro-government force is approaching Bentiu from the town of Mayom (Unity state west of Bentiu). Despite claims that they would counter-attack and retake Mayom, the bulk of rebel forces appear to have retreated to Bentiu.

The Sudanese Army claimed that it had attacked a Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) base in the Malken area of Blue Nile state. The attack was part of the comprehensive offensive in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states which began in early December. 

January 7, 2014:  The Sudan government denied that it is considering establishing a joint security force with the government of South Sudan to protect oil facilities in South Sudan.

South Sudan government and rebel negotiators held face-to-face discussions in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The representatives said they would attempt to reach an agreement to end hostilities.

Units from the South Sudan government’s SPLA 3rd Division, SPLA 5th Division and loyalist troops in the SPLA 4th Division are attempting to retake the town of Mayom (Unity state).  A major battle occurred outside Mayom on the road to Abiemnhom (which on the border between Unity state and Sudan’s South Kordofan state).  Loyalist 4th Division troops regrouped in Abiemnhom.  Mayom is about 50 kilometers west of Bentiu, the capital of Unity state. Elements of the South Sudan Liberation Army (SSLA) are allied with the pro-government force. The SSLA ended its rebellion after the government agreed to integrate some of the SSLA fighters into the SPLA. Both the government and the rebels claim to control Mayom. Reports indicate the fighting has been intense. Many of the rebels around Mayom are SPLA defectors who served in the 4th Division. The division commander, General James Koang, joined the rebellion on December 20. Koang is now the rebel governor of the state. His headquarters is in Bentiu.

Fighting continues in and around the town of Bor. The government no longer claims its forces have retaken the town. Tanks from both sides were firing on each other. It stands to reason that the rebels have some tanks; in Unity state entire garrisons defected so armor at these garrisons could have fallen into rebel hands. In 2008, Ukraine (and possibly other Eastern European nations) delivered at least 67 T-72 tanks to South Sudan. The tanks were trans-shipped through Kenyan ports.

The South Sudan government agreed to a ceasefire with David Yau Yau’s rebel group. His fighters operate in Jonglei state and have been a serious problem for the central government. Yau Yau is a charismatic leader. In 2010 Yau Yau rebelled against the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement (SPLM, South Sudan’s major political party). He ran as an independent candidate for a seat in Jonglei’s state government. When he lost he accused the SPLM of stealing the election. Yau Yau and the government reached a negotiated settlement and he ended the rebellion. However, in 2011 he accused the government of failing to live up to the agreement and rebelled again. 

January 6, 2014:  Approximately 7,000 SPLA soldiers have defected from the South Sudan government to the rebels. That happened in Unity, Jonglei, Upper Nile and Western Equatoria states. During the first ten days of the uprising at least 5,000 Nuer soldiers defected to the rebels. Defections continue to occur and some of the recent defections appear to be coordinated. SPLA troops who defected from the garrison at Yei (Central Equatoria state) on January 4 may have included Brigadier General Peter Taab. At least 30 soldiers stationed at Yei defected to the rebels. Though that is just a platoon, the Yei defectors stole several vehicles and apparently took a cache of weapons with them. The rebels also wounded two pro-government soldiers when they seized the vehicles. Residents in Yei reported that the defectors intended to link up with the SPLA rebel forces who took control of the town of Mundri (Western Equatoria state).

South Sudan government SPLA forces are using boats on the White Nile River to bring supplies and infantry reinforcements to its force at Bor. Observers reported one large boat carried an estimated 150 soldiers.

Sudan president Omar al-Bashir flew to Juba, South Sudan, to meet with South Sudan president Salva Kiir. A South Sudan government source announced that Kiir and Bashir are considering deploying a joint security force to protect South Sudan’s oilfields. The joint Sudan-South Sudan force would guard the fields until South Sudan’s civil war ends. Both leaders need the oil revenue, so protecting the fields from rebels in the south makes economic sense. However, inviting Sudanese Army forces into South Sudan entails many long term risks for the southerners, whether they are pro-government or pro-rebel. What if Khartoum’s forces decide to stay?

January 5, 2014: Despite the South Sudan government’s claim to have retaken Bor, rebels still control the town. Government forces encountered a rebel position on the main road 25 kilometers south of Bor and an extensive firefight broke out. After the firefight, the government force advanced up the road to the town.  Another firefight occurred about 15 kilometers south of Bor. Even if the kilometer markers are inaccurate, the reports indicate the rebel forces have been fighting a delaying action along the Juba-Bor road. It also looks like a delaying action run by veteran soldiers who know what they are doing. The rebels have conducted ambushes. They had also set up roadblocks which, according to one report, government forces managed to bypass. However by-passing takes time, so the delay mission is accomplished. The government forces have suffered casualties in these battles along the main road, including the death of the general commanding the column. The South Sudan government has confirmed that the SPLA senior commander in charge of the Bor operation was killed when rebels ambushed him. He was near the front of the advancing column.  The government force apparently suffered several hundred casualties in that battle. Despite the commander’s death and the casualties, the column pushed through the ambush and continued to break through every rebel ambush and roadblock. The government column has main battle tanks and some 2,000 soldiers. There are reports that the government is reinforcing the force. Bor is definitely the government’s major military effort. Pushing forward despite the fierce resistance is also a display of will and professionalism. The display of combat skills on both sides should surprise no one. The SPLA is an experienced light infantry combat force schooled in ambush and withdrawal operations. The SPLA can also handle offensive operations. The fighting around Bor is really an SPLA civil war pitting loyalist SPLA units (loyal to President Salva Kiir) against rebel SPLA soldiers fighting for Riek Machar. Observers have reported that both sides in the battle for Bor are well-armed. No surprise there, either. The rebel SPLA soldiers took their weapons with them when they defected. (Austin Bay)

Sudan claimed that its security forces had seized  the villages of Al Dabkaya, Angolo and Trogi (South Kordofan state). The villages are in the western part of the Nuba Mountains. The rebel SPLM-N disputed the claim and said that Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) forces had driven off the attacking Sudanese Army unit. The SRF is an umbrella resistance organization which includes the SPLM-N and the Darfur rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).

January 4, 2014: An SPLA column advanced toward the rebel held toward Bor.  The SPLA column has armored vehicles (including several T-72-type tanks) and artillery. The government claimed the SPLA had soldiers within 15 kilometers of the town but that is unconfirmed. Rebel forces ambushed the government force 50 kilometers south of Bor as the government column advanced on the main road.  Reports indicate a substantial rebel force was involved in the ambush operation. The rebels may also have some armored vehicles in Bor or the immediate vicinity.

Rebel and government forces in South Sudan fought in Unity and Upper Nile states. The clash near Mayom (Unity state) may have involved large forces on both sides. The government claimed that SPLA units were advancing toward Bentiu (capital of Unity state) and Malakal (capital of Upper Nile state). Rebels claimed to have attacked facilities in Upper Nile’s Adar Yeil oil field.  A pro-government element of the 4th SPLA Division has reportedly regrouped in the Abiemnhom area of Unity state.

Artillery fire (likely mortars) hit Juba’s central area (government district, with presidential compound and ministry headquarters). Observers also reported scattered exchanges of light automatic weapons fire in Juba. One exchange occurred near a hospital in a SPLA barracks area; another occurred near the UNMISS headquarters (airport area).  No source clearly identified who was involved in the fighting. Rebel soldiers who defected from the Juba garrison in mid-December 2013 are in the Juba area. A group apparently retreated into Juba’s Khor William neighborhood and went into hiding. The artillery fire and firefights were the first reported indications of combat in the Juba area in a week. The government claimed the firefights broke out between drunken soldiers.

Some 600 Nuer soldiers in an SPLA unit in Maridi (Western Equatoria state) defected to the rebels. The defectors fought with pro-government soldiers near the town of Rokon (Central Equatoria state). Another rebel force from the town of Lui reportedly took control of the town of Mundri (both towns are in Western Equatoria state).

An SPLA unit in the town of Yei (Central Equatoria state) defected to the rebels.  The government admitted the defection occurred and confirmed reports of heavy fighting at the Yei garrison. Yei is 170 kilometers southwest of Juba, near the Uganda border.  During the civil war with Sudan Yei was a major SPLA base and was heavily fortified. Yei suffered numerous air attacks by the Sudanese Air Force. The defecting unit has a number of wheeled vehicles and used the vehicles to leave the town. That could indicate that the unit is going to reinforce rebel fighters in another state.  The Yei defection occurred one day after the governor of Central Equatoria, who is an SPLA major-general, ordered all trained and organized forces in Yei to report to Juba by January 6.  The trained force order included SPLA soldiers, air defense units and police. Wildlife management, prison guards and firemen were also included in the order, regardless of age. During the last week of December, the government denied rumors that vice president James Wani Igga would be demoted from vice-president to second vice-president so that Riek Machar could be offered the position in peace negotiations. Wani is from Central Equatoria and is a member of the Bari tribe. In 2002, Wani was vice-president of the SPLM. He stepped aside so Machar could have the position when Machar’s forces rejoined the SPLA/SPLM. Central Equatoria has several ethnic groups; the Mundari and Bari tribes are the largest. The Kakwa tribe is the predominant ethnic group in the Yei area.

A former Janjaweed militia commander in Sudan’s Darfur region has defected from the Sudan government.  Musa Hilal said that he was joining the Sudanese Awakening Revolutionary Council (SARC). The SARC claims to represent Arabized tribes in Darfur. It takes the position that the government has exploited these tribes. For over a decade the government has used Arab Janjaweed militias to attack Darfur rebels. SARC has held talks with the SRF.

January 3, 2014:  South Sudan claimed the SPLA had defeated a rebel force which near the town of Makuac (Jonglei state). The rebel force was advancing south toward Juba. In Unity state (northern South Sudan), rebel general Peter Gadet has around 5,000 soldiers. Gadet holds Bentiu, Unity state’ capital. He is a member of the Nuer tribe (Bul Nuer). So is James Koang Chul. Koang was the commander of the 4th SPLA Division in Unity state until he defected.

An estimated 70,000 refugees have fled from South Sudan’s Jonglei state into neighboring Lakes state. Many of the refugees have collected around the town of Awerial. Another 75,000 refugees have sought protection around UN bases in South Sudan. Meanwhile, South Sudan’s government said it would begin investigations of SPLA soldiers accused of killing innocent people. The announcement sounds a lot like an admission that the killings have occurred.

January 2, 2014: Observers the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) reported numerous atrocities throughout South Sudan. The UNMISS report uses the term extra-judicial killings to describe the murder of civilians or summary execution of captured soldiers. The fighting began to spread nation-wide on December 16.  Reports of atrocities began appearing on December 17.  The UN and other aid agencies have reported a large number of casualties attributed to ethnic violence in the cities of Malakal (Unity state), Bor (Jonglei state) and in Juba.  In Juba, Dinkas allegedly targeted Nuers. In Bor, Nuers targeted Dinkas.

South Sudan’s government said that the SPLA has a large force advancing north toward Bor, capital of Jonglei state. A rebel force is reportedly moving south from Bor. The rebel force in Bor has around 5,000 fighters (one source estimated 7,000). Another SPLA contingent is preparing to move toward Bentiu, capital of Unity state (northern South Sudan). Rebels also control Bentiu. 

South Sudan is apparently still producing and exporting oil.  Despite the conflict, the country is producing 200,000 barrels a day. Normal production is around 250,000 barrels a day.

January 1, 2014: Negotiators representing the government and the rebels have gone to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to discuss a ceasefire agreement. Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said his country will facilitate negotiations. The UN, the African Union, and the East African Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) are attempting to end South Sudan’s civil conflict and stop the widespread ethnic clashes in the country. China is also encouraging both sides to agree to a ceasefire.

Rebecca Garang, the widow of John Garang (long time leader of the SPLA and its war-time senior commander), appears to be seeking a middle position between government and rebel factions. Prior to the rebellion she had criticized the government for being arbitrary and autocratic. The rebel leader voiced similar criticisms. The Garangs are members of the Dinka tribe. Though Mrs. Garang is officially an adviser to President Kiir, some members of the South Sudan government are claiming she has sided with the rebels. Shortly after the rebellion began, Mrs. Garang’s eldest son, Mabior Garang, criticized the government for arresting rebel supporters.

The South Sudan government confirmed rebel claims that pro-rebel forces have retaken the capital of Jonglei state, Bor. The rebels made the claim on December 31. Bor is about 200 kilometers from Juba. Retaking Bor is a military achievement for the rebels. It gives them a base for operations reasonably near the capital. More, importantly retaking Bor is a major political success and gives the rebels a bargaining chip in future negotiations. Of course, now they must hold it. In 1991 a Nuer White Army militia massacred of around 2,000 Dinka in Bor.





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