An important new report from Small Arms Survey: “Two Fronts, One War: Evolution of the Two Areas Conflict, 2014–15,” by Benedetta De Alessi
This Working Paper analyses the last two years of conflict in the Two Areas, based on fieldwork in late 2014 and early 2015, and significant additional interviews in 2015. It examines the major conflict dynamics during the last dry season of fighting (late 2013–mid-2014) and describes the primary armed actors and their positions to shed light on the major conflict dynamics of the dry season offensive that started in December 2014. It also reviews the crisis in the Two Areas in terms of its devastating humanitarian and human rights impact on civilians. The paper situates the conflict in the context of broader political dynamics in Sudan and the region, and looks at the links between the conflict and the unfolding crisis between Sudan and South Sudan that are playing out around the Two Areas.
Among the paper’s key findings:
- The Government of Sudan (GoS)’s fourth ‘dry season offensive’ started in South Kordofan before the last round of negotiations in Addis Ababa was adjourned, with GoS forces attacking Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North (SPLA-N) positions in Buram and Kadugli counties on 1 December 2014 and continuing through mid-January 2015. The rebels claimed substantive victories, seizures of weapons, and GoS defections, but without significant changes in the front line. A second phase of the government offensive began in the aftermath of the April 2015 Sudanese elections, on parallel fronts.
- In Blue Nile guerrilla operations continued throughout the rainy season, and from February 2015 fighting concentrated in the Ingessana Mountains, reaching the outskirts of the Blue Nile capital, Damazin. In March and April 2015 the SPLA-N engaged in ‘hit and run’ operations in areas garrisoned by government forces, including the use of long-range shelling, a new tactic aimed at disrupting the national elections.
- Both the GoS and SPLA-N had recruited heavily ahead of this ongoing fighting season in the Two Areas. SPLA-N forces are mainly composed of indigenous tribes and total around 35,000 fighters. GoS forces are increasingly composed of seasonally recruited local militias organized under the National Intelligence and Security Services, which are expected to fight more effectively in their home areas, with an estimated 48,000–63,000 men in total, while the use of regular Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) troops has been reduced. In South Kordofan some 6,000–10,000 Nuba were recruited into the Rapid Support Forces (RSF).
- Darfur members of the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) left South Kordofan during 2014 and the majority of their troops moved to Darfur and border areas in Bahr el Ghazal in South Sudan. The SPLM/A-N leadership asked the Darfur rebels to leave the area over reported abuses against civilians and the recruitment of Nuba and SPLA-N soldiers, mainly by the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). This decision did not end the political and military cooperation of the groups constituting the SRF. Following the SPLA-N’s withdrawal from Raja in February 2015, each rebel group is now fighting in its own area.
- After its departure from South Kordofan JEM maintained a presence in Unity state, South Sudan, and fought alongside the SPLA against the SPLM-In Opposition (SPLM-IO). The latter has also operated from rear bases in the Two Areas since the internal South Sudanese conflict erupted in December 2013, from where it staged attacks into South Sudan.
- The GoS’s continued use of indiscriminate and targeted aerial bombing of civilians, including attacks on cultivated farms, food stocks, and clinics, has worsened the humanitarian situation for around 600,000 IDPs in rebel-held areas. The frequency of bombing in support of the government offensive in December 2014–February 2015 was higher than average, and cluster bombs were dropped on civilian areas. As a result of insecurity and consequent reduced production, local humanitarian actors were expected severe food insecurity levels by May 2015 in part of the rebel-held areas.
- Reports of widespread, documented violations of human rights and international humanitarian law are an emerging feature of the conflict, with the vast majority reportedly committed by government or pro-government forces. This includes the recruitment of child soldiers, the mass rape of women and girls, the illegal detention of citizens in government-held areas, and abuses against Blue Nile refugees in Ethiopia (who total around 40,000) by Sudanese and Ethiopian security forces
- Because the SRF is the driving force behind strategic alliances with traditional Sudanese opposition parties and civil society that are calling for the political transformation of the state and the immediate cessation of hostilities in the Two Areas and Darfur, the organization’s minimal structural cohesion undermines the achievement of its political objectives.
‘Two Fronts, One War’, the 38th Working Paper in the HSBA series. All previous Working Papers are available for download in English and Arabic from: http://www.