New Satellite Images Show Buildup of Helicopter Gunships, Tanks Within Striking Distance of Abyei

WASHINGTON – The northern Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) has deployed heavy offensive weaponry including helicopter gunships and tanks near the boundary of Sudan’s disputed Abyei region, according to new imagery released by the Satellite Sentinel Project. The introduction of attack helicopters and main battle tanks within range of Abyei constitutes a major escalation of SAF military capacity in the area.

“The introduction of heavy air and ground attack capacity by SAF represents a significant buildup of firepower in a tense region,” said Enough Project Executive Director John C. Bradshaw. “The international community has the responsibility to protect civilians by using its diplomatic clout to ensure that northern and southern Sudan resolve the standoff over Abyei peacefully.”

“Last month, northern-aligned forces razed three villages in the Abyei region,” said Enough Project Co-founder John Prendergast. “Now we see that SAF has deployed new helicopter gunships and tanks within attack range of Abyei. The southern forces would likely be overrun if the Government of Sudan and its allied militias attack. Since the rains will turn Abyei into a mud field by May, this month is a window for heavy military action. Therefore, a diplomatic surge must be deployed to avert a resumption of full-scale war.”

Armament introduced into the region in recent weeks includes two helicopters consistent with Mi-24 Hind gunships -- attack helicopters reportedly used by SAF in combat operations in Darfur -- at least nine main battle tanks consistent with T-55s, and trucks consistent with support vehicles needed for the forward deployment of heavy armor, the satellite imagery shows. They are all within attack range of the Abyei region, approximately 175 kilometers away from Abyei town and 100 kilometers from Abyei’s border as demarcated by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2009.

These developments are occurring at the same time as northern and southern-aligned forces remain deployed in close proximity to one another inside the Abyei region.

“The incursions into Abyei of northern and southern forces over the past month have been internationally recognized as violations of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement committed by both sides,” said Harvard Carr Center Executive Director Charlie Clements, MD. “In this context, deployment of these offensive-specific capabilities within attack range of Abyei represents an additional threat to the already precarious human security of civilians in and around the region.”

In the past two months, the Satellite Sentinel Project, conceived by George Clooney in October 2010, has identified a total of at least 13 tanks based in South Kordofan within 200 kilometers of Abyei. The project has also released satellite imagery that confirmed the intentional burning of three villages in Abyei by northern-aligned forces.

Read the full report: “Range of Attack: Deployment of SAF Helicopter Gunships and Tanks near the Abyei Region.” URL:

View or download high-resolution, DigitalGlobe satellite imagery via Flickr:

About the Satellite Sentinel Project

The Satellite Sentinel Project,, combines satellite imagery analysis and field reports with Google’s Map Maker to deter the resumption of full-scale war between North and South Sudan. Not On Our Watch provided seed money to launch the Satellite Sentinel Project. The Enough Project contributes field reports and policy analysis, and, together with Not On Our Watch and our Sudan Now partners, pressures policymakers by urging the public to act. UNOSAT analyzes satellite images and collaborates with Google and Trellon to design the web platform. Harvard Humanitarian Initiative provides research and leads the collection, human rights analysis, and corroboration of on-the-ground reports that contextualizes the imagery. DigitalGlobe provides satellite imagery and additional analysis.