SitRep 21 October 2011: Reported SAF attack on Sali, Blue Nile and potential impact on Kurmuk

Harvard Humanitarian Initiative prepared this situation report for the Satellite Sentinel Project.

On 19 October 2011, Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) attacked Sali, Blue Nile. The fighting reportedly lasted 12 hours until the early morning of 20 October.  Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North (SPLA-N) spokesman confirmed the battle but rejected SAF’s claims that they drove SPLA-N, including former Blue Nile Governor and SPLA-N commander Malik Agar, from the area.  As the rebels fled the area, SAF reports that they left behind their weapons and the bodies of their soldiers. SAF spokesman al-Sawarmi Khalid Saad also reported that SAF used a wide variety of weaponry, from tanks to artillery. Sweeping this area of rebels, SAF claimed, was part of their efforts to sweep Blue Nile of SPLA-N forces.

The recent battle in Sali, which is 32 km/19.88 miles from Kurmuk, increases the threat of SAF movement into Kurmuk.  Newly appointed governor of Blue Nile, Al-Hadi Bushra, has released statements that SAF is leading operations around Kurmuk, the rebel stronghold, to gain control of the area.  Sali’s close proximity to Kurmuk confirms public statements by SAF and NCP officials of SAF’s military operations to clear the area of rebels.          

The rainy season in Sudan approximately lasts from June to October. Blue Nile state experienced severe flooding during mid-August, the height of the rainy season before northeasterly winds begin to move dry air into Sudan from the Arabian Peninsula. Heavy rains made Kurmuk inaccessible and flash floods destroyed villages in lower-lying areas of Tadamon locality.[1] In addition, heavy rains on 25 September in Kurmuk slowed civilian border crossings into Ethiopia to escape the violence in Blue Nile.[2]

A United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) mission report on refugee movement from Ethiopia to Blue Nile examined the approximate travel time of a 4x4 throughout Blue Nile during the dry and rainy season. This distinction is imperative because the rainy season, which brings immense flooding, affects the unpaved roads that connect different locations throughout the state. The travel time from Damazin to Dindiro during the dry and rainy seasons is 3 hours. Further, travelling from Dindiro to Kurmuk during the dry season is 4 hours, while impassable during the rainy season.[3]

This data supports the timeline of Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) movements. SAF movement from Damazin to Dindiro resulted in clashes with Sudanese People’s Liberation Army-North (SPLA-N) on 21 September. Based on UN data, this movement is possible during the rainy season. Upon SAF movement into Dindiro, SAF and different Government of Sudan officials (including President Omar Bashir) have increased rhetoric that SAF will move into Kurmuk to clear the area of rebel forces and will soon be offering prayers of thanksgiving in Kurmuk. These claims were made during the end weeks of the rainy season when the road to Dindiro to Kurmuk is impassable.

Although there have been no reports of SAF advancing into Kurmuk despite their public declarations, a SAF offensive must be anticipated. The coming end of the rainy season follows weeks of SAF statements of their intention to enter Kurmuk. This movement will be made when the rainy season ends in October. The end of the rainy season will provide a more favorable environment when SAF will be able to travel and not have operations be compromised by heavy rains and road destruction.