Brewing Siege? Satellite Sentinel Project Reveals Evidence of SAF Encircling Key Nuba Area

The Satellite Sentinel Project is issuing a human security alert for the Nuba Mountains region of South Kordofan, Sudan, including the Kauda Valley, based on new evidence from satellite imagery and analysis presented in a report released today.

Last year SSP accurately predicted the invasion of Abyei by Sudan Armed Forces, or SAF. A similar attack could be in the works, with SAF fortifying roads, elongating airstrips, cutting off exit routes, and building up military presence and attack capabilities within striking range of the Kauda Valley and Nuba Mountains.

The Nuba Mountains are home to Sudan’s Nuba people, a population who sided with the South during Sudan’s civil war, and are defended by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army-North, or SPLM/A-N.

SAF leadership has explicitly expressed its plans to wipe out the SPLM/A-N rebellion. In November, Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir stated that “the celebration for wiping out the rebellion in South Kordofan State will be through the coming final battle in Kauda area.”

South Kordofan Governor Ahmed Haroun, who was indicted in 2008 by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity in Darfur, stated in October, “These [road construction] projects will be the weapon for defeating the enemies.” Haroun identified three areas still under SPLM/A-N control to be attacked: Heiban, Umm Dorain and Buram. Haroun further vowed to liberate Kauda from rebel forces.

If the international community does not take action, the plans of al-Bashir and Haroun may come to fruition in the coming weeks. With only two months left until the expected start of the rainy season, SAF forces have a limited window of time to launch a full-scale assault.

SAF’s preparations for this attack, evidenced in DigitalGlobe satellite imagery and analyzed by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, have been thorough and disturbingly similar to SAF’s build-up before it invaded Abyei last year.

Harvard Carr Center Executive Director Charlie Clements, MD, stated, “The disturbing pattern, indicated by satellite imagery analyzed by SSP, has been seen before. In the case of Abyei, the international community did not heed the warnings we issued six weeks in advance. The community of nations must not again fail to act while some 200,000 Nuba civilian lives are in danger.”

Imagery shows helicopter gunships, battle tanks, mechanized infantry units, and occupied artillery positions at the Kadugli airbase and SAF 14th Division headquarters in Kadugli. These units will soon be capable of deploying into the Kaunda Valley, due to newly re-enforced roads encircling SPLM/A-N controlled areas. Elevated roads are rare in the Nuba Mountains and will enable heavy artillery and troops to make their way through the difficult terrain.

In addition, SSP has observed SAF efforts to lengthen and level the airstrip at Talodi, which is within 30-mile striking range from the Kauda Valley. The extension of this airstrip will allow it to accommodate Antonov planes used for bombing and other attack aircraft.

Finally, the Buram region, one of the regions identified by Haroun “to be attacked,” has been isolated from South Kordofan, closing the route civilians would use to flee to refugee camps in South Sudan.

 “As they did with the Ngok Dinka in Abyei and with the Fur and Zaghawa in Darfur, the Khartoum regime is driving the Nuba people out of their homelands in order to remove the support base for the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North,” said Enough Project Co-founder John Prendergast in the press release announcing the report.

Enough Project Executive Director John C. Bradshaw elaborated on what should be done, “The United States, together with the international community, must act swiftly to fulfill its responsibility to protect the Nuba people who are being bombarded, and starved, by their own government.”

Prendergast concluded, “For years, there has been talk and debate about the efficacy of a no-fly-zone or some other kind of deterrent to the Khartoum regime’s use of air power to attack civilian targets. Now would be the time for the United Nations Security Council or interested member states to create that deterrent, and combine it with a cross-border humanitarian aid operation to break the blockade the regime has created with its denial of access for emergency assistance. If left to their own devices, thousands of Nuba civilians will die.”

Read the full report, “Siege: Evidence of SAF Encirclement of the Kauda Valley” and view DigitalGlobe satellite imagery.