Since this report and data spreadsheet were released on May 6, 2011, the Sudan Armed Forces—at the direction of the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime in Khartoum—have not only continued there aerial onslaught in Darfur, but have begun a massive, ethnically targeted military campaign in the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan, including sustained and extremely destructive aerial attacks on civilians. Khartoum has also engaged in extremely provocative military actions in very tense border regions, including Abyei and the northern border of oil-rich Unity State (South Sudan). The latter actions have included repeated, confirmed aerial bombardments within Pariang County, which have displaced thousands of Southerners (all attacks are reported in Excel spreadsheet update). Ominous reports—from the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), from Malik Agar (leader of the SPLM in North Sudan and Governor of Blue Nile), from satellite imagery, and from regional sources—suggest that the southern regions of Blue Nile State (North Sudan) may also soon become a new war zone.
In Darfur—increasingly a parenthetical subject in discussions of Sudan—several attacks in a three-day period in May killed and injured dozens of civilians. On May 15 Khartoum’s warplanes bombed the town of Labado and the village of Esheraya in South Darfur, killing 13 and wounding many more (some critically). Reuters reports that on May 17 the village of Sukamir was bombed, casualties unknown. Bloomberg News reports that the targets of the May 18 bombing included the civilian villages of Umm Rai and Hashaba in North Darfur; ten civilians were killed (Baashim village was also attacked). The powerless UN Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), disastrously led by the feckless Nigeria’s Ibrahim Gambari, was prevented by Khartoum from investigating these atrocity crimes, as it has been so many times previously. Information about such aerial attacks comes much more often from Radio Dabanga, the essential news clearing-house for Darfur (Radio Dabanga was able to provide not only details of the bombings, but the names of many victims). Radio Dabanga estimates, on the basis of UN figures and its own, that some 140,000 people have been newly displaced by aerial and other military violence since mid-December 2010 (this comports closely with an aggregation of data from the UN and humanitarian organizations).
But the regime’s June 5 assault on South Kordofan—this following its May 20-21 military seizure of the contested Abyei region—has concentrated aerial firepower with extraordinary ferocity on the Nuba people of the region, especially the Nuba Mountains in the center of South Kordofan; some 70 bombing, strafing, and helicopter gunships have been confirmed in the last six weeks, but reports from the ground on the amount of aerial activity suggest that this vastly understates the actual number of attacks. An internal and unreleased document produced at the very end of June by human rights personnel of the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) gives a general sense of the scope of aerial assaults on civilians:
“Since the eruption of the conflict, the SAF has carried out daily aerial bombardments into the Nuba Mountains and in several towns and villages populated by Nubans. The consequences of these bombardments on the Nuban people and in particular civilians, including women and children, are devastating. They have resulted in significant loss of life, destruction of properties, and massive displacement.” (§33 “UNMIS Report on the Human Rights Situation During the Violence in Southern Kordofan”)
The Nuba are a large and indigenous group of African tribes who have the temerity to resist Khartoum’s campaign of Arabism and Islamism (although a significant number of Nuba are themselves Muslim). The Nuba became strong supporters of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army in the 1990s, and for this reason were targeted by Khartoum for genocidal destruction. A fatwa was issued by Khartoum in January 1992, and coupled with a total blockade of humanitarian relief to the region, the military jihad came perilously close to exterminating the Nuba. Julie Flint, an expert on the region, has estimated on the basis of her research that “in the early 1990s, regular Sudanese army troops and paramilitary Popular Defense Forces killed 60,000-70,000 Nuba in just seven months.” Many hundreds of thousands were killed, otherwise succumbed, or were displaced from their fertile lands—some of the richest in Sudan.
The Excel spreadsheet of May 6 has been supplemented with this update; the most current version of the data spreadsheet will be continually available at www.sudanbombing.org. The total number of confirmed attacks exceeds 80. The attacks in the Nuba Mountains have been confirmed by (highly limited) UN investigations, by journalists who have now reported from the remote Nuba Mountains region, by massive photographic evidence from the ground, by satellite imagery from the Satellite Sentinel Project, and by the Nuba themselves. It is, of course, impossible to confirm all these latter reports as fully as might be wished; but there is so much redundancy in the reports from various sources (including Nuba who have escaped to South Sudan), and they have been passed on by people of such impeccable integrity—John Ashworth, Sam Totten, Sudanese clergy, and others—that it seems under present circumstances intolerable to exclude them.
The consequences of this brazenly indiscriminate aerial assault are evident everywhere: people have been forced to abandon their villages and lands at the height of planting season, fleeing to caves in the mountainsides; humanitarian access to the Nuba Mountains has been shut down; a great many Nuba have been killed or wounded, though here we can only estimate on the basis of aggregated individual reports. Such evidence strongly suggests that hundreds, perhaps thousands have been killed directly or as a consequence of the bombings and the lack of relief aid. Tremendous numbers of people have been displaced, and the peculiarly static UN figure of “73,000 displaced” is simply an estimate based on what can be surmised from the highly constrained UN presence in Kadugli (capital of South Kordofan). Abdel Aziz el-Hilu, former deputy governor of South Kordofan, has estimated on the basis of preliminary data that the figure is closer to 500,000. The number very likely exceeds 250,000.
There are many reports of house-to-house arrests and summary executions of Nuba in Kadugli during the early weeks of the onslaught, typically on the pretext of their having “Southern sympathies.” Roadblocks reminiscent of those in Rwanda during the spring of 1994 have also targeted Nuba, who are arrested or executed. Often these people are simply trying to escape, especially to the South. There is now compelling satellite photographic evidence of mass graves, and the UN cannot account for some 7,000 Nuba who were in their protective custody until compelled by Khartoum’s Military Intelligence to leave for Kadugli Stadium. They have not been seen since their forcible removal from the UN security perimeter.
But the aerial assaults are what will destroy the Nuba, if Khartoum succeeds in its genocidal ambitions. Nearly all relief groups remaining will have to withdraw (nearly all have already done so), particularly those with expatriate workers; it is presently the rainy season and the widespread loss of shelter is particularly dangerous. It will be the loss of next autumn’s crops, however, that will bring the Nuba to the verge of starvation. If this planting season and crop-tending are largely disrupted by continuous aerial bombing and rocket attacks, starvation will be an inescapable reality. Such starvation in the 1990s compelled many Nuba to seek out Khartoum’s “peace camps,” where receiving food was contingent upon conversion to Islam. Those who refused where often tortured, mutilated, or killed. Memories of the “peace camps” run deep among the Nuba.
Khartoum is making good on its demand that UNMIS withdraw entirely from North Sudan after secession by the South (July 9). This removes the last vestiges of yet another failed and extravagantly funded UN peacekeeping mission—the last international presence that might be able to confirm the scale of human suffering and destruction in the Nuba Mountains. The U.S. and others have objected, but Khartoum is not listening.
Aircraft in use
Aerial attacks on civilians and humanitarians—whether in Darfur, South Sudan, or South Kordofan—continue to take three primary forms. Antonov “bombers” are the mainstay: retrofitted Russian cargo planes flying at very high altitudes without bomb-sighting mechanisms, from which crude barrel bombs are simply rolled out the back cargo bay. As I have note previously, they are notoriously inaccurate, and useless for true military purposes. Their purpose is civilian terror and for this they are superbly effective. There is, however, evidence in the photographs of some very large craters that suggests much greater explosive power is now available. The Satellite Sentinel Project also reports that an Ilyushin Il-76—a very large Russian-built cargo plane used to transport heavy equipment—has been sighted at the airport in Kadugli, now entirely under the control of Khartoum’s SAF and Military Intelligence. A plane of this description has been seen flying over the Nuba Mountains and dropping great quantities of bombs.
Helicopter gunships are infamous in Darfur, but have been deployed in South Kordofan as well, primarily in the lowlands outside the Nuba Mountains, but with increasing range. A Sudanese church source reports that Nuba are being hunted “like animals” by helicopter gunships. These military aircraft are likely to be much more heavily utilized in South Kordofan once the rains have ended. The region is just now entering the rainiest months of the year, and it appears that Khartoum is content to use aerial attacks by Antonovs and military jet aircraft to shut down humanitarian access, displace the Nuba, and compromise the present planting season with an eye to starving these people in the coming year.
[Khartoum also continues its massive buildup of heavy weapons in Dilling and Kadugli, including many tanks, armored personnel carriers, artillery and large mortars, armored scouting vehicles, other vehicles, and mobile BM-21 40-tube rocket launchers (a newly deployed and immensely destructive weapons system).]
Because the Nuba Mountains lie so close to El Obeid, Khartoum’s primary forward military base, Sukhoi-25 and other ground attack aircraft can easily reach the region in a very short space of time. There have been a great many reports of “MiG’s,” though this likely means any jet aircraft (i.e., not an Antonov or helicopter gunship), which typically move at such speeds that they are very difficult for the inexperienced to identify from the ground. The one unmistakable aerial photograph of jet aircraft in the Nuba Mountains reveals a Sukhoi-25, which the Satellite Sentinel Project has placed in significant numbers at El Obeid.
Absent a robust international response that is nowhere in evidence, the most likely course of events will be a continuation of the present pattern of civilian bombings in Darfur, South Sudan, and South Kordofan. But war might easily expand significantly following recent international recognition of the new Republic of South Sudan (UN membership became official on July 14). Since Khartoum has been the conspicuous aggressor in all reported military violence, the international right of self-defense by South Sudan has significantly new meaning. This is especially true since the Khartoum regime is clearly supporting militia groups in the South that have only one goal: destabilizing the region through attacks on civilians. This is certainly the case with Peter Gadet, a dangerous military leader in Unity and Warrab states who has repeatedly changed sides during and after Sudan’s 22-year civil war.
Once war begins to expand, there is simply no saying where it will end. After much talk about how war was too expensive for either side, Sudan pundits are now speaking more ominously about the possibility of all-out war in Sudan. There will be enormous pressure on Juba, capital of South Sudan, to aid the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/North, both in the Nuba Mountains and in southern Blue Nile State (in the North), where there has been a major (though largely unreported) military build-up by both sides. Soldiers from both the Nuba and southern Blue Nile fought shoulder-to-shoulder with the SPLA in the South; these regions have already been excluded from the self-determination process that was laid out by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (2005). It is doubtful that Juba will let their compatriots down again. As Salva Kiir, the President of the Republic of South Sudan, declared on independence day, July 9, 2011:
“I want to assure the people of Abyei, Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan that we have not forgotten you. When you cry, we cry. When you bleed, we bleed. I pledge to you today that we will find a just peace for all.”
It is unclear all that this implies militarily. What we may be sure of is that Khartoum’s conduct of war will continue to include systematic, widespread, and ethnically targeted aerial attacks on civilians and the humanitarian resources upon which they depend.
Data spreadsheet updated: www.sudanbombing.org
Bibliographic extension (see also extensive bibliography in original report, pp. 47 – 82):
UN. Special report of the Secretary-General on the Sudan. 17 May 2011. S/2011/314
UN. Report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict in the Sudan. 5 July 2011. S/2011/413.
UN. Report of the Secretary-General on the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur. 8 July 2011. S/2011/422.
Sudan Democracy First Group. Ethnic Cleansing Once Again: Southern Kordofan/Nuba Mountain. 13 June 2011.
UNMIS. Report on the Human Rights Situation During the Violence in Southern Kordofan Sudan. June 2011.
• Darfur: UN-African peacekeeping force to probe Sudanese air strikes. 16 May 2011 (States News Service)
• UNAMID voices concern over bombing of two localities in South Darfur. 17 May 2011 (Sudan Tribune)
• Sudanese army denies bombing civilians in Darfur. 17 May 2011 (Al-Ayyam)
• Sudan ‘stages new Darfur air strikes’. 18 May 2011 (AFP)
• UN-AU peacekeeping mission investigating fresh round of air strikes in Sudan’s Darfur. 18 May 2011 (AP)
• UNAMID moves to probe reports of airstrike in north Darfur village. 19 May 2011 (Sudan Tribune)
• Sudan army says south attacked it in hotspot of Abyei; south accuses north of bombing run. 20 May 2011 (AP)
• Sudan rivals trade accusations after Abyei shooting. 20 May 2011 (AFP)
• Sudan says 22 soldiers killed in Abyei ambush, as local officials denounce air and ground attacks. 21 May 2011 (Sudan Tribune)
• South Sudan clashes target civilians: UN. 21 May 2011 (AFP)
• UN official: northern Sudanese troops appear to have seized contested town of Abyei. 21 May 2011 (AP)
• U.N. reports Sudan air strikes on Darfur villages. 23 May 2011 (Reuters)
• Sudan’s Abyei ablaze after capture by north: UN. 23 May 2011 (AFP)
• Four Villages Reportedly Bombarded in Abyei as U.N. Investigates Convoy Ambush. 24 May 2011 (All Africa)
• Sudan: High Commissioner for Human Rights urges immediate cessation of hostilities in Abyei. 24 May 2011 (States News Service)
• Taking flight, Sudanese lack food, water; government bombs border region; Effort by North to strengthen hand in upcoming oil revenue talks, analysts say. 1 June 2011 (Washington Post)
• South Sudan accuses north of air attack, clashes flare. 10 June 2011 (Reuters)
• South Sudan calls for foreign military intervention in South Kordofan. 10 June 2011 (Sudan Tribune)
• Official: North Sudan aerial bombing kills 3 people in Unity state in the south. 10 June 2011 (AP)
• SAF air raid kills 5 civilians in Sudan’s Unity state: official. 10 June 2011 (Sudan Tribune)
• Air bombardment reported in Sudan’s S. Kordofan –UN. 10 June 2011 (Reuters)
• Two Sudan army planes shot down: fighters. 12 June 2011 (AFP)
• South Sudan accuses north of second airstrike. 13 June 2011 (Reuters)
• Road closures, bombings, landmines hit Southern food supplies. 13 June 2011 (IRIN)
• Sudan: UN reports intense air bombardment of southern Kordofan state. 14 June 2011 (States News Service)
• Air strikes in Sudan state causing ‘huge suffering’: UN. 14 June 2011 (AFP)
• New front opens in north-south Sudan conflict as dozens reported killed; new clash near Abyei. 15 June 2011 (AP)
• Bombs rain down on south Sudan border. 15 June 2011 (AFP)
• UN, US condemn Sudan border bombings. 15 June 2011 (AFP)
• Sudan eyewitness recalls South Kordofan horror. 17 June 2011 (AFP)
• Sudan military planes drop bombs near UNMIS mission-U.N. 17 June 2011 (Reuters)
• Over 2,000 displaced by north’s bombing of Unity State – officials. 18 June 2011 (Sudan Tribune)
• Darfur rebels say Sudan army attacks their positions. 19 June 2011 (Reuters)
• Sudanese Plan Drops Bombs Near Southern Kordofan Airstrip, UN Says. 20 June 2011 (Bloomberg)
• Ethnic Killings by Army Reported in Sudanese Mountains. 21 June 2011 (The New York Times)
• Darfur rebels say Sudan air attack killed 35 civilians, call for no-fly zone. 23 June 2011 (Sudan Tribune)
• Crisis in Sudan: Allegations of Ethnic Cleansing in the Nuba Mountains. 24 June 2011 (New York Times)
• Horror and uncertainty on Sudan’s stricken border. 25 June 2011 (AFP)
• Deadly air strikes in Sudan Border state: UN. 26 June 2011 (AFP)
• Sudanese government bombs village in new border war with south. 28 June 2011 (The Guardian)
• Sudanese Airstrikes Probably Caused Civilian Casualties, UN Agency Says. 30 June 2011 (Bloomberg)
• Sudan ‘bombing’ kills 3 in south oil state: minister. 3 July 2011 (AFP)
• Witnesses: Sudan Armed Forces resumed bombing Darfur. 15 July 2011 (Radio Dabanga)