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Search and Destroy: The Combat of South Sudan’s Civil War


By Alex Beck.

This week’s article will examine the overall combat of the war in order to better emphasize of the current situation South Sudan is facing. Reports of large scale fighting have not been reported by the media recently, likely in part due to the country’s troubled peace talks that are underway. It’s nonetheless vital to understand what type of fighting has taken place throughout the course of the war for understanding the fragility of the nation.

So far, the war has seen a dynamic back and forth between government and rebel forces taking over areas like Bor, Bentiu, and Malakal. For example, as of last month the city of Malakal has been all but abandoned by its residents due to the war*. As a response, the UN has recently opened a new additional refugee camp within the city, hoping to take pressure off a preexisting Malakal camp whose population is at 19,000**. In addition to the regular tribulations of living in a refugee camp, UN camps can no longer guarantee a safe haven. This past April, a UN refugee camp located in Bor came under a surprise attack by a group of around 350 assailants disguised as civilians. This group, of currently an unknown background, managed to kill dozens of refugees. Fortunately, UN troops were quick to launch an effective counter attack that prevented more innocent deaths^.

However, this incident appears to only be a continuation of the fighting methods previously used while overtaking a city. At the beginning of 2014, Human Rights Watch investigators detailed the aftermath of combat operations in Malakal and Bentiu. Mass looting of homes and aid buildings by both sides were documented, as well as troops opening fire on rival ethnic civilian populations^^. Prior to this, the nation’s capital of Juba saw identical offenses in the start of the war, where Dinka troops had formed death squads and attacked both soldiers and civilians of Nuer ethnicity. A large scale massacre of up to 300 deaths took place as one single occurrence during this timeframe*^.

With these actions occurring in the first days of the war, it is of little surprise that it has defined the conflict thus far. As a reporter for Vice Magazine stated while embedded with a Nuer militia earlier this year, “the smoking ruins of Malakal prove that boredom and vengeance have replaced strategic purpose. Though the [rebel] wounded elsewhere need a doctor, one group is setting a clinic on fire.”^**

This statement is especially troubling to anyone seeking an end to the fighting. Peace talks, after all, are negotiations that deal with political compromise of some sort in order to establish a long term peace. Political factors certainly exist in the conflict, such as neighboring Uganda admitting to aiding South Sudan government forces with Ugandan troops***. However at its core, the conflict is widely considered to be an ethnic one. Which poses a dilemma; can a race war really be political?

Still, peace talks are happening. On June 10th, both sides announced a cease fire and plans for a new government to be formed within two months. However this deal follows previous cease fire agreements being broken*^. The difference now is that in the event of another breakdown, a regional trade bloc known as IGAD had threatened to start “sanctions and [other] punitive actions.”*^^ The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), is the partnership of Kenya, Djiboti, Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia, and Uganda formed in 1986^^^.

While we know that IGAD-member Uganda aids the fighting, Sudan is strongly believed to also have been pouring gas on the fire^^*. War journalists Robert Young Pelton and Tim Freccia, when interviewing Riek Machar earlier this year, reported that new weapons and ammo were being air dropped to rebels with their serial numbers scratched off. Their conclusion is that Sudan is behind the arms shipments. This is based on, but not limited to, Machar’s old partnership with Khartoum^*^. This week’s talks have stalled*^* and given the double dealing of some neighboring government’s, not to mention the irreconcilable violence that has occurred, it is difficult to believe any meaningful treaty will be ratified soon. Only time will tell what happens to South Sudan.

In the next week’s article, the involvement of the United Nations will be further examined. The article will attempt to summarize their role, activities, and obstacles in creating peace in order to gain a better understanding of the conflict.


Alex Beck is a recent college graduate with a B.A. in History. He lives in North Carolina and this is his first year as a Research Fellow with AIDemocracy.



*Syed Nazakat,”Bleeding After Birth,” Manorama News,http://www.manoramaonline.com/cgi-bin/MMOnline.dll/portal/ep/theWeekContent.do?contentId=16989155&programId=1073755753&tabId=13&BV_ID=@@@&categoryId=-217201 [accessed 6-27-14].
**UN News Centre, “New UN site in Malakal offers protection to South Sudanese civilians fleeing conflict,” United Nations, http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=47998#.U698TJRX-uZ [accessed 6-27-14].
^ BBC News Africa, “South Sudan conflict: Attack on UN base ‘kills dozens’,” BBC, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-27074635 [Accessed 6-28-14].
^^Human Rights Watch News, “South Sudan: War Crtimes by Both Sides,” Human Rights Watch, http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/02/26/south-sudan-war-crimes-both-sides [accessed 6-27-14].
^* Human Rights Watch News, “South Sudan: Ethnic Targeting, Widespread Killing,” Human Rights Watch, https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/01/16/south-sudan-ethnic-targeting-widespread-killings [accessed 6-27-14].
^** Robert Young Pelton, “Saving South Sudan, ” special issue, Vice Magazine, Volume 21, Number 4: 126.
***Al Jazeera News, “Uganda admits combat role in South Sudan,” Al Jazeera, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2014/01/ugandan-troops-battling-south-sudan-rebels-201411683225414894.html [accessed 6-28-14].
*^BBC News Africa, “South Sudan government and rebels ‘agree to end fighting,” BBC, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-27789771 [accessed 6-28-14].
*^^ Ibid.
^^^UNHCR, “Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD),” The UN Refugee Agency, http://www.unhcr.org/pages/4a2cff992.html [accessed 6-28-14].
^^*Robert Young Pelton, “Saving South Sudan, ” special issue, Vice Magazine, Volume 21, Number 4: 108.
^*^Ibid, 108.
*^*Jutta Schwengsbier, “ No quick solution to South Sudan’s crisis,” Deutsche Welle, http://www.dw.de/no-quick-solution-to-south-sudans-crisis/a-17741805 [accessed 6-28-14].


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One comment

  1. Great article. I was stunned to see how little I know about this conflict, especially vis-a-vis the media. Do you mind elaborating on why you think that is?