The Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP) is issuing a human security alert for the civilian population of the Kauda Valley in the war-torn Nuba Mountains region of Sudan. Digital Globe Intelligence Solutions (DGIS) imagery has captured a significant mobilization of Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) around Rashad, Delaba, and Umm Abdallah in the Nuba Mountains, South Kordofan, Sudan. The SAF mobilization, which includes the movement of heavy weaponry into the area, appears to be preparation for an assault on Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) bases in the Kauda Valley. Most significantly, DGIS imagery from Delaba confirms the presence of a Chinese-manufactured WS-01 multiple rocket launcher battery,* a powerful and indiscriminate weapon within the SAF inventory, that is not normally deployed to low-level conflicts. In addition, sources on the ground have confirmed the presence of the reconstituted Janjaweed, known as the Rapid Support Force (RSF), west of Rashad, which routinely engages in the destruction of entire civilian villages. The RSF include local militias that are backed by the Sudanese government to forcibly displace civilians and engage rebel forces. The combination of the WS-01 multiple rocket launcher and the RSF Janjaweed poses a grave threat to civilian populations in the Nuba Mountains region.
There has been a three-fold increase in SAF presence at Umm Abdallah, including two additional motorized infantry battalions and tank positions set up to the west and east of the town. The units appear to be highly mobile and could rapidly move to another location.
Figure 1 depicts the deployment of a motorized infantry battalion immediately east of Umm Abdallah on April 13, 2014. The cargo trucks near the center probably contain tents and other supplies for the battalion.
Imagery taken between March 14 and April 9 suggests that SAF units have recently moved into wooded locations on the south side of Delaba. On April 9 a WS-01 multiple rocket launcher was observed along with at least one 2S1 self-propelled artillery gun, or 122 mm Howitzer, in the area. Additional weaponry could be present, but the area is partially obscured by tree cover. At least two WS-01 batteries have been identified outside of Khartoum – one at El Obeid Headquarters (HQ) and the other at the 14th Division HQ in Kadugli. Weekend imagery over El Obied HQ suggests that the WS-01 multiple rocket launcher battery and the 2S1 self-propelled artillery gun battery on that installation are no longer there; they could be the same batteries observed in Delaba.
Figure 2 shows a reinforced motorized infantry battalion deployed west of Delaba on April 13, 2014.
Figure 3 shows the deployment of a WS-01 multiple rocket launcher and one 2S1 self-propelled artillery gun to an installation south of Delaba on April 9, 2014.
In recent comments reported by the Sudan Tribune, Sudanese Defense Minister Abdel-Rahim Mohamed Hussein has vowed that the rebel forces will be crushed unless they enter into a negotiated settlement with the government, including participation in the Sudanese government’s ongoing national dialogue process. The leadership of the rebel SRF has reiterated that they will not participate in this “farce par excellence” with the government, so long as the national dialogue lacks transparency, accountability, and a third party mediator.
Last Friday, Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) Director Mohamed Atta confirmed the deployment of the RSF Janjaweed to South Kordofan. Radio Dabanga has also confirmed the presence of RSF militias under the command of Gen. Abdel-Samad Babiker stationed at Al Fayed village in Rashad, where SSP images were taken. On April 11, ground sources reported the shelling and aerial bombardment of areas around Tome and Mansour, which is often a precursor to the wholesale burning and destruction of civilian villages carried out by the RSF Janjaweed.
In recent months, attacks against civilians have continued across Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile. February was the deadliest month for aerial assault in South Kordofan since the recent conflict began in 2011, and Darfur is seeing the worst levels of violence since the beginning of the genocide. The mobilization of SAF in the Kauda Valley, while it simultaneously launches the national dialogue, may be the latest example of a long practiced regime strategy: using diplomatic overtures to neutralize one set of opponents while launching military offensives on others. Alternatively, the regime may be seeking to press a weakened rebel SRF into the national dialogue. Regardless of the intent of this massive offensive, civilian populations will likely be caught in the middle of devastating violence.
*WS-01 multiple rocket launcher was manufactured by Sichuan Aerospace Corporation – SCAIC and is part of the Weishi family of rocket launchers. It is a 302 mm rocket with ranges reported between 80 and 180 km depending on the version. This same system was acquired by Iran and used to develop the Fajr-5. A battery consists of one launcher and one resupply vehicle.