Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Inter-Sudan War, Part 1

Yes, a new series on Africa. And, notice the ominous title.

I was reviewing Sudan in Transition, a blog by Rebecca Hamilton, who is an author and special correspondent now in Sudan covering the situation there. Specifically, I was reading her article What Sparked the Attack on Abyei? from June 1, 2011.

The specific part of the article that most caught my attention was this:

Press statements from the Government of South Sudan do not deny there was an incident but they do deny that there was an intentional ambush. The most detailed account I have received of Juba's version of events so far comes from the General Army Chief of Staff of the SPLA, Lt-Gen James Hoth Moi, whom I interviewed on May 27.

According to Moi, the SAF JIU was being escorted up to Goli following an incident on May 15 where an SPLA contingent of a JIU was attacked by northern-allied militia, resulting in the death of four SPLA soldiers. After this incident, Moi says that both sides agreed to move the SAF JIUs further north and the SPLA JIUs further south to avoid further problems, with the SAF accompanying the SPLA units from north to south to ensure their security and the SPLA accompanying the SAF units from south to north for the same reason. Moi says that this was the process that was under way when the incident in Dokura occurred.

According to Moi, the SAF JIU, with an SPLA commander and UN escort, was a convoy of five trucks. At Dokura, some of the SPLA JIU who had been in the group who were attacked on May 15 began arguing about whether it was wise to provide SPLA accompaniment to the SAF JIU as they headed further north from Dokura. In the midst of the argument, a shot was fired into the air from the group who were arguing (Moi says he has not confirmed who fired that shot). When a SAF soldier on the truck closest to the group heard the gunshot, Moi says he must have thought he was being attacked. Moi says the SAF soldier then overreacted, launched an RPG-7 which set a nearby car alight. After that chaos ensued. SAF troops, believing the burning car was part of an ambush, all jumped from the truck. Although the trucks at the head of the convoy continued heading north, the trucks at the back were caught up in the violence. Moi says that both SAF soldiers and some Ngok Dinka civilians were killed, although he could not confirm numbers.

Moi also places the Sudanese government's seizure of Abyei into a broader context – though it is a different contextualization than the one given by Khartoum. According to Moi, the Sudanese government had been planning to invade Abyei for many months and the May 19 incident, far from being a trigger, was instead a useful pretext.

My comment was as follows:

The version Lt. Gen. Moi gave you seems to make some sense, in that it appears that Khartoum has had contingency plans in case of southern secession. For example, the appointment of Harun as governor of Southern Kordofan two years ago, coupled with the military build-up in the region during this same time frame, indicates that perhaps Bashir is planning to use his Darfur strategy to secure the Nuba mountains area. It seems logical that he might want to apply similar methods to ensure Abyei had a higher proportion of people favorable to Khartoum so that whenever a referendum is held, the area will go to the north.

International Criminal Court Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo has stated that Bashir invents conflict to create a better negotiating position, according to March, 2009 Wikileaked cable. Consequently, we could expect Bashir to generate some kind of crisis, through a false-flag operation if necessary; however, given the tensions, he really only needs to wait for an inevitable incident, then blow it out of proportion.

A conflict with the south would play into Bashir's hands up to a point. The north seems to have its deals cut with Middle Eastern countries for arms shipments via Sudan to be smuggled through Egypt to Gaza. Khartoum also has useful relations with China. Consequently, as long as oil can be exported via Port Sudan, there is a way to channel foreign arms to groups friendly to Khartoum along what will soon be the Inter-Sudan Border. (Ambassador Williamson talked a little about Khartoum's support for these groups with Chinese-made weapons in testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee back in January.) Even if the flow of Sudanese oil should somehow be cut, Bashir may still get what he needs from allies in the Middle East; Iran could easily supply Sudan enough to ensure Bashir finishes any conflict in an advantageous position, and might do so as a quid-pro-quo for smuggling arms to Gaza. In any case, Darfur has become a hub of arms smuggling across the Sahara/Sahel region. The opportunity is there, in the absence of an effective international response.

If the goal is not a thorough military defeat of the south, but rather a conflict to improve his negotiating position, and in particular a conflict under somewhat ambiguous circumstances so as to not galvanize any kind of international response, Bashir could pull this off quite easily. Such a scenario would be consistent with what we have seen in Sudan, it would be consistent with what we know of Bashir, and it would be consistent with Lt. Gen. Moi's observations. This might be leveraged by Bashir into more control over Sudan's oil exports which, coupled with a growing gold-mining industry in the north, would seem to secure Khartoum's position for the foreseeable future.

And, I think this is what is happening. As Governor Taban Deng said back in May, South Sudan is already at war.

It would take very minimal support to place Bashir's forces in check. For example, supplying the south with some man-portable air defense missiles could negate Bashir's use of cargo planes and vintage fighters to attack civilians. The missiles need not be state-of-the-art; thirty-year-old technology, the kind China has made widely available in the world arms market, would be perfectly adequate, as Bashir's air force likely has neither the equipment nor the training to effectively counter such a threat. (The attack helicopters would likely be a little more difficult to deal with.)

I'm betting this will all get worse before it gets better.

Thanks for the excellent work you are doing there. Please be careful.

Considering how extensive the comment became, I decided to make it the core of a new post at my blog. And, considering the conclusions I have been coming to regarding Sudan recently, especially at my previous post on Sudan, Land of the Blacks, Part 5, I decided to begin a new series.

In less than a month, the southern parts of Sudan are supposed to officially secede from Sudan, creating a new country, South Sudan.

When this happens, there will be a border between the two new daughter countries of Sudan; I am calling this the Inter-Sudan Border.

Along this border, a war is about to be fought.

(I hope I am wrong; I hope this will be a short series.)

1 comment:

  1. you couldnt be more accurate my does this portend for the future of the region?