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Sudan, Civil War since 1955 PDF Print E-mail
Contributed by Tom Cooper   
Feb 10, 2008 at 06:50 PM
Extensive feature about the long and bloody civil war in Sudan, which saw some of the most shameful use of airpower in the last 40 years

Sudan, the largest country in Africa, is another state the borders of which were drawn regardless of local circumstances, its many tribes and a critical division between the Islamic north and the Animalistic and Christian south. Especially during the later decades of the 19th Century, under the rule of the Mahdists, the imposition of the Islamic rule on non-Muslim population in the south was accompanied by great brutality, thus creating the rife between the two communities that is very much present until today. The establishment of an Anglo-Egyptian condominium in 1896, helped end the widespread and brutal wars fought in the south for decades, but old memories as well as cultural and religious difference persisted also after Sudan achieved independence, on 1 January 1956.
During the early 1950s, the RAF had a permanent base at Khartoum, where several units were periodically stationed in order to support Egyptian units fighting dissidents in Somaliland and Eritrea.

Already the organization of Sudan as an independent country proved exceptionally problematic. In the spring of 1955 unrests developed in the south: mistrusting the local troops of the Equatoria Corps, the British had to fly-in 8.000 troops in from Khartoum to put it down. Despite the success, this was only the beginning, then most of the troops that mutinied deserted into the bush with their weapons. Given that in the following years the central government ignored all the calls for the south to get at least some degree of autonomy, but also did nothing against the deserters organizing a well-armed guerilla, it did not took long until an outright civil war broke out.

The Sudanese Air Force (SuAF) was organized with British help in 1957, initially flying four Provost T.53s, which were then reinforced by five more ex-RAF examples of the same type, and then four Gomhourias supplied from Egypt. In 1957 a Flying School was established at Khartoum, but in November 1957 two Provosts collided, killing four of only 12 qualified Sudanese pilots. By 1961 five additional Provosts were supplied from the UK, followed by eight Jet Provost T.Mk.51s in 1962-1963. Meanwhile, in 1960, also a training arm was established, equipped with three Pembrokes and two DC-3s.

In 1963, the rebels in the south unified into the Land Freedom Army, better-known as Anya-Anya (“AN”), and in the following year the first attacks against government and army installations followed. In order to be able to better support its troops, the government then ordered a further increase in the transport air arm, and from 1965 this was reinforced by four Fokker F.27-400Ms, three Do.27s, and eight PC-6 Turbo Porters, all badly needed to diminish the problems of troop movements and supply-transport in this huge country with poor road-communications.

These could not help any more, however: as the situation in the south detoriated it lead to a political chaos in the north, then famine, and a final collapse of the government authority in the south. In the middle of this situation, the Six Day War in 1967 distanced Sudan from the West: in 1968 an arms deal was concluded with the USSR. After several changes in the central government, a coup in May 1969 brought Col. Jaafar Numeiri to power, which sent the country further to the left. The UK – which was in the middle of delivery of five Jet Provost T.Mk.55s to the SuAF – immediately withdraw its support, but British instructors were instantly replaced by the Soviets. Together with instructors, the Soviets delivered six An-12 and An-24 transports each, followed by six Mi-4 and eight Mi-8s, in 1970.

SuAF An-24 "911" seen in the late 1980s: ever since, a number of additional "Cokes" was purchased, either from Libya, or from the former Soviet republics, and several of them were equipped to carry bombs. (Tom Cooper collection)

On the other side, the AN started receiving support from Israel: from 1969 onwards, transport aircraft of the IDF/AF delivered airdrops on weekly basis, usually after passing over Uganda.

Meanwhile, the famine reached disastrous proportions, and several international charity organizations contracted three companies – including the aircraft-chartering company Southern Airmotive – to recruit mercenaries which then built an air strip in Sudan, where relief supplies would be flown into. In 1971, the fast-jet fleet was reinforced by deliveries of 16 MiG-21Ms and four MiG-21US from the USSR. Contrary to different reports, however, these were not exclusively flown by Soviets, Chinese, or Egyptians: due to its training capacities, the Sudanese had no particular problems with qualifying enough crews for their new MiGs, based at Wadi Sayyidna AB. In fact, these were soon in action even against several airstrips in Ethiopia, used for flying supplies to the rebels in the south, while foreign instructors were foremost employed to help in an airfield improvement and construction program, which saw the building of new airfields (most of which were combined civilian-military facilities) at Atbarah, al-Fashir, Juba, Malakal, al-Ubayyid, Port Sudan, and Wad Madani, as well as enlargement of the main base at Wadi Sayyidna.

SuAF MiG-21M "344" seen in the late 1970s: Sudan acquired 16 one-seaters and four two-seaters, but their availability sank rapidly after most of the Soviet instructors were expelled from the country, in the wake of a failed coup against President Numeiri. (Tom Cooper collection)

As Numeiri meanwhile started alienating left-wing elements in Sudan, these attempted – with Soviet-support – a coup, but this was thwarted with British help. Most of the Soviet instructors were immediately forced to left the country, and relations to the USSR detoriated. However, the Soviets then stopped supplying spare parts, and the availability of most of brand-new aircraft and helicopters was soon poor. The problem was decreased to some degree after Numeiri established contacts to the Chinese as well, and these swiftly delivered 20 Shenyang F-5s (MiG-17F), and three FT-2 (MiG-15UTI) trainers. These were soon in action and were used for flying strikes against numerous villages in the south. SuAF MiG-21Ms and F-5s were in action also on 20 September 1972, when they forced five Libyan C-130H transports underway with 399 troops for Uganda to land at Khartoum. Due to the good Sudanese relationship with Libya, they were permitted to return to Libya, via Cairo, but once airborne, the transports continued for Entebbe nevertheless.

In the late 1970s Sudanese MiG-21Ms were made operational again with US, Egyptian, and British help. A USAF officer can be seen here during inspection of the MiG-21M "345". (Tom Cooper collection)

Although he managed to solve some of the problems his junta was facing, feeling isolated, Numeiri was finally forced to give concessions to the south, enabling a degree of self-government. The settlement was found through a series of compromises, including establishment of a unified government for the southern regions to represent the interests of the local population in Khartoum, integration of AA dissidents into the national army, and tolerance between different religions and cultures.

In the following years, Numeiri also made overtures towards the West, which lead to re-establishment of good relations to the UK again. Already in 1975 a small contingent of the British Army, including a detachment of the 7 Regiment AAC, equipped with several Gazelle helicopters, held an exercise in the country: simultaneously, also a RAF contingent was stationed at Khartoum to help put the Jet Provosts back into service. It is possible that also some RAF pilots were seconded to SuAF to fly them as well.

The USA then followed the pattern, sending a small military delegation, which also inspected all the MiGs in service with the SuAF (after reporting to Pentagon that out of 16 MiG-21M and four MiG-21US only 14 M and three US remained intact by 1979, of which only half could fly). Connections to Washington lead to permission of the sale of six C-130H Hercules transports, although the first request for Northrop F-5E fighters was turned down by Carter’s administration. In 1977, the SuAF was reinforced by deliveries of four DHC-5D Buffalos, ten SA.330 Pumas, and 20 MBB Bo.105Cs. Such a huge delivery, however, was too much for the weak Sudanese economy to support, and the order for the Pumas – as well as another including 12 Mirage 5Ds – was then cancelled. By 1980, when the USA reversed their stance, and showed readiness to supply ten F-5Es and two F-5Fs however, Numeiri managed to bring the Chinese to deliver 12 new J-6s and a small number of FT-6 trainers to Sudan instead.

This C-130H destined for Sudan was photographed during a take-off for pre-delivery flight-testing, over Georgia, USA. (photo: Lockheed)

Confrontation with Libya

Although formally over since May 1973, the civil war meanwhile experienced a new quality, as in the south a new dissident group emerged, called “Sudan People’s Liberation Army” (SPLA), and incorporating some elements of the former AN. Namely, economic difficulties as well as the deep mistrust of southerners against the central government and its different projects aimed at improving the flood control, but considered threatening for the local farming and herding economy. By the early 1980s the situation in the south was tense once again, and only a catalyst was needed to precipitate a full-scale revolt.

In addition, Sudan became embroiled in protracted engagements with several of its neighbours: Ethiopia, for example, was supporting the SPLA, while Sudan was supporting Eritreans in their fighting against Ethiopians. Consequently, both the Sudanese and Ethiopian air force MiGs attacked camps across the borders several times. In 1981 also Libya invaded Chad, and – in the pursuit of Chadian troops – Libyans several times crossed the border into Sudan. In fact, in late summer and autumn 1981 the Libyan Air Force several times bombed Sudanese cities and villages, the strikes culminating in an attack against Omdurman, which left several civilians killed and a number of houses destroyed.

Egypt, with whom Sudan had signed a defence treaty in 1977, immediately came to help, warning Libyans to stay away from the country, and deploying a squadron of F-4E fighters to an airfield near the Sudanese border. The USA were also swift to react: while eight F-15C Eagles and a single E-3A Sentry AWACS were deployed to Egypt, in order to help keep the situation under control. By 1981, fearing the possibility of a Libyan invasion, the USA also offered a loan on very favourable terms, which enabled Sudan to finally order ten F-5Es and two F-5Fs, with Saudi funding.

The first two F-5Fs were delivered in October 1982, and the majority of F-5Es followed through 1983, together with a small batch of AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles and simultaneously with deliveries of ten BAe Strikemaster Mk.90s from the UK, although the last Tiger IIs did not reach Sudan before 1984. One of the F-5Es crashed only week after delivery, in June 1984. The number of MiG-21M/US fell to eleven one-seaters and three two-seaters, but only 50% of these could fly, so that the Sudanese interceptor fleet was actually insufficient for the defence of country’s airspace. Not only this: the radar coverage was also so poor, that all these aircraft proved unable to intercept Ethiopian transports supplying the SPLA on regular basis, and were never a threat for intruding Libyan bombers.

New Civil War

By the time, the tensions between the north and south Sudan reached their peak: the Sudan People’s Armed Forces (SPAF) sought to rotate units in which the southerners served to the north, and replace them with northerners. While this was easily possible with units in which northerners and southerners were integrated, many of SPAF units stationed in south were entirely composed of southerners, for which a move out of the area was a major concern: former AN fighters had families and ties and feared about what could happen without their presence at home. By 1983 this issue became critical, and threatened to split the SPAF. As the central government persisted on rotation of the units, in January several of these refused to be moved and mutinied. The situation could have been salvaged, nevertheless, but the government refused to use the help of such intermediaries like the influential US-educated Col. John Garang de Mabior (also a leader of the SPLA) or to modify the rotation policy. As the mutiny spread, the SPAF moved to put it down.

Initially, the rebelling troops put up a poorly coordinated resistance: in fact, for most of 1983 the pattern was such that the mutiny of one unit was followed by wholesale desertion to the bush, where some of the rebels organized new movements – such like the Ethiopian-supported and Libyan-financed Southern Sudanese Liberation Front (SSLF). But then the SPLA became active, capturing Malwal on 7 November, before moving to capture a part of Nasser, and hold it for seven days. The SPAF started a counteroffensive, which was given some support from the fighter-bombers of the Egyptian Air Force, and the SPLA, lead by Col. Garang, was finally forced to give up the siege of the city, but the SuAF lost at least one helicopter during the fighting at Nasser, and three more during the following battle at Malwal, together with 267 killed and 173 injured. The SPAF claimed to have inflicted over 500 casualties to the SPLA: in fact the whole rebel force in the area had only 150 fighters.

While other oppositional groups remained small and weak in size, in early 1984 Garang consolidated his organization of former AN fighters and SPAF deserters into five battalions, and the rebellion spread. On 8 February a new offensive was started against Malakal, and two days later the base camp of the Jonglei Canal project was overrun, as well as the SPAF camp at Ayod. By April, the SPLA secured a number of key towns through Bahr al-Ghazal and Upper Nile: it soon became clear that the demoralized and weakened SPAF could not win against an insurgent force consisting largely of former guerillas or military men with considerable combat experience, which enjoyed support from the local population.

Through 1984 and early 1985 the SPLA continued establishing control over large parts of southern Sudan, capturing government outposts cut off from supplies, but also downing two MiG-21Ms during different battles. In order to improve the situation, Khartoum purchased six CASA C.212 transports in 1984, but two of these were equipped as maritime patrol aircraft. In February 1985, over 3.500 SPLA fighters moved against the city of Juba: their initial two-pronged attack, however, was stopped by the Mandari militia and the local SPAF units. Garang, however, then turned and captured strategic areas around Boma and Yirol. After this loss, Nimeiri’s government was considerably weakened, and he was removed in a coup staged by SPAF Chief of Staff Gen. Suwar ed-Dhahab, in April 1985, which then organized elections. The SPLA initially reacted positively, but then realized that nothing really changed, and in May more SPAF garrisons were put under a siege. While flying supplies to one of these, on 14 April 1985 also a SuAF DHC-5D Buffalo “833” was shot down near Akobo with the loss of four crew.
From July 1985 the new government started getting support from Libya; but the SPLA could continue the war without any help from Tripolis. In fact, the insurgents maintained pressure on many garrisons in southern Upper Nile and central Equatoria: in exchange, the SPLA managed to relive only Bor in November. In July 1985 the SPLA issued a warning that it would start firing at civilian aircraft as well, because the government was using airliners to transport troops. This threat was made good on 16 August 1986, when Sudan Airways F.27 (ST-ADY) was shot down by SA-7s while enroute from Malakal to Khartoum, killing all 70 on board.

In late 1985, the new civilian government, under the president el-Mahdi, started arming local tribesmen, but this decision proved to become a severe mistake, as availability of large numbers of modern light arms in the areas where long-standing ethnic grievances were existing had only served to exacerbate the conflict. Expecting a large offensive of the SPAF in 1986, Garang deployed the SPLA into a series of pre-emptive attacks, initially in the Adok area, but then also towards Juba. Although largely unsuccessful, this move – as well as downing of the SuAF DHC-5D Buffalo “800” (c/n 83), near Bor, on 4 April, when seven out of 14 crew and passengers were killed – prompted both sides to negotiate. Libyan-mediated talks between Garang and el-Mahdi soon collapsed and the war continued by an SPLA attack against Wau, in August.

SuAF MiG-21US "303" under inspection by USAF officers: the photograph was taken in the early 1980s, after the aircraft was at least ten years in service: nevertheless, it was still in pristine condition. (Tom Cooper collection)

The SuAF meanwhile continued to bolster its transportation capabilities: a Buffalo and an F.27 were donated by Oman and Yemen, respectively, in 1986, and also the helicopter squadron – now having only four or five Mi-8s – was completely rebuilt by acquisition of 24 Romanian-built IAR-330 Pumas delivered in batches of 4 (in flight !) starting in May 1983, and eleven AB.212s.

SuAF DHC-5D "800": the aircraft was shot down by SPLA MANPADs near Bor, on 4 April 1986, killing all 14 aboard. The photograph was taken in 1984 at Khartoum IAP. (Tom Cooper collection)

Having established a strong position in Upper Nile, in November 1986 the SPLA successfully stopped a drive of five SPAF battalions reinforced by armour, from Makal towards Anatyer, and then in November routed this force during a series of engagements in the Nasir-Akobo-Pachala area.

Both sides spent most of 1987 in reorganization and pilling supplies: during a supply flight to Wau, on 11 May, however, a SuAF C-130H was shot down by SA-7s, killing all five on board. By the end of the year, the SPLA had 12 battalions with 12.000 regular fighters, as well as ten reserve battalions, with approximately 10.000 reservists. Understanding the weakness of the SuAF in regards to close-air-support capabilities, late in the year the Libyans donated 12 MiG-23BNs, and the Chinese supplied 12 F-6Cs, which entered service with the already existing MiG-21M unit, based at Wadi Sayyidna, that was by the time left with eight intact one-seaters and two two-seaters, of which only four were operational on average. The MiG-23BNs were to be rushed to combat in early 1988, when a number of SPLA task forces moved in coordinated fashion – in what was to become known as “Operation Bright Star” - to capture several government garrisons, interdict all major land and water routes, and put Juba, Wau, Torit, Malakal, Bentiu, Uweyl, Rumbek, Gogrial, Nasser, Akubu, Yei, Bor Maridi, Mundri, and few others under a siege. By July, Garang could confidently declare the whole southern Sudan under his control: by the time the SuAF was left with only six operational MiG-23s, as three were shot down, and three others lost in accidents (these losses came in addition to at least three F-5Es, two Buffalos, two C-130Hs (the second was shot down on 8 February 1990, by SPLA’s MANPADS, while underway from Harare, in Zimbabwe, to Maridi, in Sudan, with the loss of all aboard), an F-6, one Mi-8, one An-24TV (shot down on 9 January 1990, by SPLA’s MANPADS, near Kajo Kaji), and one F.27 shot down since 1983.

Iranian Influence

The success of the SPLA and the ineffectiveness of the SPAF lead to the overthrow of the el-Mahdi’s government in 1989 by a group of officers heavily influenced by the radical Muslim National Islamic Front (NIF). This group, which called itself the National Salvation Revolutionary Command Council (NRSCC) was headed by Brig.Gen. Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, who suspended the constitution and assumed all offices of the government. For all practical purposes, Sudan was now ruled by extremist Islamists, and the fighting continued. In turn, however, this development proved positive for the SPLA, which by 1991 reached its peak power of 40.000 regular fighters. Its continuous military success was a major embarrassment to the government in Khartoum, which now turned to Iran and China for military assistance, while simultaneously establishing the People’s Defence Force (PDF) according the lines of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps.

During the following two years the SPAF was put through a series of considerable reorganizations. What by the time was basically a light infantry force, supported by specialized elements, was to become a massive machinery of destruction. During this reorganization the divisional commands were kept, but their composition made more flexible: each division was now to control a specific sector, into which units would be deployed as needed, for which the divisional command would then be responsible to organize and support with own specialist units. Regional commands were as follows:
- 1st Division, HQ at Juba (Southern Command)
- 2nd Divsion, HQ Khashm al-Qirbah (Eastern Command)
- 3rd Division, HQ al-Ubayyid, in Kurdufan (Central Command)
- 6th Division, HQ al-Fashir, in Darfur (Western Command)
- 7th Division, HQ at Ash-Shajarah, near Khartoum (Khartoum Command)

During the late 1980s left without the US support, Sudan had to turn elsewhere for help. Here a Mi-8 is loaded aboard one of the SuAF C-130Hs, which was to bring it to Yugoslavia for complex overhaul. (via Tom Cooper)

Obviously, not each unit was at full strength: the 3rd Division, based in the north, had no major units assigned, while the 6th Division was actually at a strength of a reinforced brigade only, with barely 2.500 personnel. The 1st Division, based in the south, on the contrary, was not only to full nominal strength, but also reinforced by several independent brigades. Each division has got a liaison officer attached to general HQs in Khartoum, to facilitate the division’s communication with various other command elements.

In total, these divisions had two armoured, one mechanized, 17 infantry, one paratroop, one air assault, and one reconnaissance brigades, as well as three artillery regiments, two anti-aircraft brigades, one engineering regiment, and a special forces battalion. Each brigade was composed of between 1.000 and 1.500 troops, with battalions varying in size between 500 and 900 troops. The paratroop and the air assault brigades were nominally under the command of the Airborne Division, based at Khartoum IAP, from where it could be swiftly deployed by the means to transport aircraft and helicopters all over the country.
A major problem of the SPAF by the time was the vast array of different weapons, which mirrored the Sudanese connections to different Superpowers through the times. The Army, for example operated not only T-54s and T-55s, acquired from the USSR in the early 1970s, but also Chinese Type-62 light tanks, as well as US-supplied M-41s, M-47s, and M-60A-3s. The situation with APCs was not much different, as there were at least 30 M-113s, 100 Commandos, 120 Egyptian-supplied Wallids, and then some other vehicles. Artillery was also a wild mix of US, Soviet, and French origin, while the main anti-tank weapon was the British-supplied Swingfire guided missile (some of which were supplied also from Egypt, which was producing them under license). Deprived of support from the outside, Sudan was unable to acquire spare parts, technical support, and even ammunition, and most of the heavy weapons were inoperational. Contrary to most reports, however, the SPAF (and thus also the SuAF) never suffered from lack of properly trained personnel. Training institutions were well-established, and offering training of professional calibre, despite the limitations of available sources. The SPAF operated a Military College at Wadi Sayyidna already since 1948: this institution was producing between 120 and 150 officers annually (peak was in 1972, when no less but 500 graduated as a result of a mobilization in the face of the first war in the south). As a matter of fact, although offering relatively weak scientific and technical instruction, this College was even training foreign students (like in 1982, when 60 Ugandans graduated), and by early 1990s it was also training members of the National Islamic Front Militia, the so-called Popular Defence Force, organized along the lines of the Iranian IRGC. Middle-rank officers were trained at the Staff College, established in the 1970s in Omdurman, while high ranks were trained at the adjacent High Military Academy and War College.

Rift in the Opposition

However, in October 1991 the situation changed considerably, when a part of the SPLA holding Nasser and most of the Upper Nile split: this fraction, even if dedicating itself to the succession from Khartoum, nevertheless also wanted to negotiate, and then also started fighting the SPLA. By accident, this happened just at the moment the SPAF was preparing a major offensive for the early 1992. Taking advantage of the situation the SPAF agreed with the Nasser fraction to allow passage of considerable troop contingents through Upper Nile state, while mounting a large attack from Juba towards Torit, SPLA’s main stronghold. Before this offensive, the SuAF was reinforced again, by addition of ten MiG-23s of different versions, supplied from Iran: these aircraft were all former Iraqi fighters, flown to Iran during the II Persian Gulf War, in January and February 1991.

In 1992, the SuAF had one fighter-bomber squadron with ten MiG-17s and J-5s, another with two F-5Es, one F-5Fs (the other two-seater was sold to Jordan) and seven J-6s. An interceptor unit flew seven surviving MiG-21Ms and two MiG-21US, as well as ten J-6Cs, while remaining MiG-23BNs – until the time flown by the same unit – were reorganized into a new fighter-bomber unit, which now operated also all the examples supplied from Iran. The state of readiness in all units was approximately 50%: much of the equipment was not in serviceable condition due to shortage of spares, while the pilot proficiency training was limited due to fuel shortages.

The state of the transport squadron was only barely better: out of six C-130Hs, only three remained operational by 1992 (a third example was damaged in emergency landing), together with two An-12s, four C.212s, one Buffalo, and one F.27. The helicopter squadron had only 15 AB.212s, Pumas, Bo.105s, and Mi-8s left.

Under the given conditions, the cooperation with Iran was of immense importance, then the Iranians could supply spares or help repair most of the aircraft. The Byelorussians were, of course, helpful foremost with MiGs and remaining Antonovs: besides, a small team of Chinese technician took care about the J-5s and J-6s.

In addition to the air force, the SPAF had also an air defence command, with HQs at Port Sudan, and secondary command post at Omdurman. It consisted of two brigades, equipped with three battalions of SA-2s, providing air defence of Port Sudan, Wadi Sayyidna, and Khartoum, and AAA-units equipped with US-built Vulcan 20mm self-propelled guns.

Just like the SPAF, the SuAF never lacked trained personnel: the training center at Wadi Sayyidna, constructed with Chinese help, always trained enough proficient technicians, ground controllers, and pilots.

SuAF Losses

Using new and refurbished fighters that now became operational, as well as weapons and fuel supplied from Belarus and Iran, respectivelly, the SPAF was swift to re-capture Bor, Kapoeta, and even Torit in the fall 1991, before the onset of the rainy season made any larger troop movements impossible. Nevertheless, the year 1992 was again not good for the government, then during the summer the SPLA fought several successful battles, and also caused several losses to the SuAF. On 18 July a helicopter was shot down at Torit. Two days later two F-6Cs encountered a group of rebels armed with MANPADs: one was shot down, and the other crashed. The SPLA also claimed an AB.212 as shot down on the same day. Finally, on 25 July a C-130H crashed – supposedly in bad weather – near Juba.

At the time, Iranian and Byelorussian instructors were already working intensively with the SuAF: they not only managed to keep the remaining aircraft and helicopters operational, but also bring all the surviving MiG-21Ms back into working condition. With their help by the end of the year, the SPAF achieved some gains, and the government felt strong enough that Bashir explained the year 1993 would see an end of the insurgency in the south, “once and for all”.

In fact, the war was still very far from over: the SPLA immediately reacted with a series of attacks on Juba, inflicting considerable damage, even if failing to capture the town. In 1993 the Nasser fraction re-joined it, even if another fraction, lead by William Nyuon Bany, Garang’s deputy military commander, then split. With this, the SPLA was almost on a verge of collapse. Nevertheless, the much announced SPAF “final offensive” of the SPAF never materialized, and instead Malakal and Juba were again put under a siege. Elsewhere, as the government troops moved closer towards the Ugandan border, the resistance stiffened (certainly in part due to the increased Ugandan support for the rebels, as well as the proximity of their bases). This happened simultaneously as the insurgence against the Ugandan regime increased in intensity too. From mid-1995 the reinvigorated “Lord’s Resistance Army” (LRA), lead by Joseph Kony, caused not only civil disorder through Uganda, but also started mixing in the war in Sudan by operating against the SPLA. The LRA became notorious as maniacally destructive, for its extraordinary brutal tactics of kidnapping and enslaving civilians (especially children), mutilation and maiming, as well as widespread pillaging, and ever since it became known that it is supported – even if “unofficially” by Khartoum.

In turn, the activity of foreign – not only Ugandan, but also Iranian, Chinese, Iraqi, and other – military in Sudan resulted in the SPLA and several other movements in southern Sudan organizing an umbrella alliance, the National Democratic Alliance (“NDA”), based in Asmara, in Eritrea. This alliance is, according to the regime in Khartoum, supported not only by Eritrea and Uganda, but also by Ethiopia and Egypt.

Through 1996 intensive efforts were undertaken to bring as many SuAF aircraft and helicopters into operational condition as possible. Nevertheless, the SPLA was reinforced by new weapons as well, especially as it acquired a number of SA-14s. These were foremost available to the units active along the border with Uganda, and immediately proved their worth while the SPLA was repulsing the offensive of the 1st Division SPAF, along the Yuba-Yei road.

Around 1855hrs on 26 February 1996, a SuAF C-130H was shot down while approaching Khartoum IAP, after a flight from el-Obeid. The aircraft crashed in flames near Jabal Awliya, killing all 91 aboard. On 19 March a MiG-21M was shot down, and only one day later also an Antonov An-26 was destroyed over Kuli Papa. When the SPLA reacted with a counteroffensive, on 10 April, also an AB.212 was shot down at Kit during a battle in which the HQ of the LRA was overrun as well.

At the time reports surfaced about former South African Executive Outcomes mercenaries being involved in the war on the side of the government. Supposedly working under the auspices of a new company, NFD, they were said to have been involved in training SPAF troops on a Libyan recommendation. However, a closer investigation in their involvement showed that the EO – before being disestablished in 1998, when the government in Pretoria introduced the Foreign Military Assistance Act, that made it illegal for South Africans to “offer or render any foreign military assistance to any state or organ of state without an official authorization – was actually working for Arakis, a Canadian oil company.

Terror Strikes

In February 1997, the SPLA captured the town of Yei, some 70km from Juba, sometimes known also as “Little London”, amidst vicious street fighting that saw destruction of several T-54 MBTs as well as turned most of the place into a pile of twisted steel and rubble. While running away the SPAF troops sew mines around the place, so to make it uninhabitable for its 30.000 citizens, and the SuAF then immediately put it under heavy bombardments. During one of these, on 20 March 1997 the SPLA MANPADs hit an An-24TV before this could drop its bomb-load. The missile proximity fused and caused an engine failure. The pilot declared emergency, and tried to land at Juba airfield, but had to abort during approach and try to make a forced landing in the field. The aircraft then crashed, killing all four aboard.

In December 1997 a new SPAF offensive was attempted against SPLA positions near the Juba-Kit Nimule road, along the border to Uganda, but the SPLA made it a very costly adventure, killing 70 of the attackers. In addition, on 9 December (at 1100hrs) an F-6C was shot down into the Nile River, in the Bibia-Nimule area, killing the pilot.
On 12 Februry 1998, Sudan's First Vice President Zubair Mohamed Saleh died along with 26 other people when their An-26 transport plane skidded off the runway during the landing at Nasser, and then plunged into the Sobat river.
By the time the SPAF was engaged in a series of huge operations with the target of destroying the SPLA social base in Bahr el-Ghazal, in southern Sudan. A drive of the reinforced 1st Division forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes: thousands were displaced, killed, or captured by the SPAF and the SuAF bombers. This offensive came at the time of a terrible famine in the area, and caused a humanitarian catastrophe. As the government in Khartoum banned all relief flights into the areas out of its control from 4 February until 31 March, perhaps as many as 100.000 people died in the famine.

The extension of this tragedy was such that some observers concluded it surpassed the situation in Bosnia, in 1992-1993: it was stopped only after the Islamic-controlled junta in Khartoum agreed to a ceasefire for the areas where humanitarian aid was needed, in mid-July.

Nevertheless, little over a month later the regime in Khartoum was accused of establishing contacts to different terrorist organizations, like al-Qaida, responsible for the attacks against the US embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Daressalam, in Tanzania, in which over 300 were killed. In fact, the USA were so convinced about a connection between the Saudi terrorist Osama Ibn-Laden and certain Sudanese companies, that on the night of 7 August several USN warships from the Battlegroup around the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69), which was operational in the Red Sea, fired 20 Tomahawk cruise missiles against the pharmacy works at el-Shifa, near Khartoum. The works were completely destroyed, but later the Sudanese provided evidence that – contrary to what the Pentagon suspected – no chemical weapons were in development there. Apparently, the USA were acting solely on the basis of U-2 overflights over Sudan.

This attack came only few months after Sudan started exporting oil from Bentiu fields: these were considered of extreme importance for the future development of the country, but also came under almost permanent attacks of the SPLA. For this reason the SPAF deployed several heavily armed units, including two equipped with 60 BTR-80A APCs, newly delivered from Russia, in the area. It was said at the time that Sudan also acquired a number of Mi-35 helicopters from Russia, however, no numbers or any other details were revealed. Quite on the contrary, all the available reports at the time said little about the eventual use of combat helicopters on the part of the SuAF. On 5 September 1998 a refugee camp in Laboone was hit, where two refugees were killed. A week later, on 12 September 1998, for example, one person was killed and 22 – including a nurse of the Norwegian People’s Aid organization – injured when one of the Sudanese “Antonov-bombers” dropped 12 bombs on the hospital in Yei.
In 1999 relief aid flights into the southern Sudan were continued as the fleet of chartered aircraft was increased: meanwhile it even included one or two twin-engined turbo-props from the Royal New Zealand Air Force Squadron 42. The UN had two C-130s chartered especially for the purpose of flying “food-bombing” missions deeper into the country, foremost for the World Food Programme.

Most of the aircraft were flown by freelance pilots, contracted by these agencies directly, but there were also some that operated under the auspices of the Operation Life-Line-Sudan (OLS), as well as other, smaller, agencies.
The main base for most of these flights was organized at Lokichogio, the second largest town in southern Sudan held by the SPLA. Theoretically, all the relief supplies were dropped only in areas agreed on with Khartoum, but in fact the typical dare-devil pilots flying these aircraft had little regard for territorial integrity and sovereignity, in particular if claimant was the junta in Khartoum: for them, it counted only if the SPLA authorized the flight. The experience teached them that flying early in the morning considerably decreased the dangers, then the SuAF was not flying by night. Actually, the MiGs would not be flying until later in the day, and – due to the sheer size of the country – the makeshift Antonov An-24, An-26 and other bombers were slow to reach remote areas before afternoon. In the case where the supplies would be off-loaded from aircraft that landed (at Yei, Chukkudum, Laboone etc.) this was usually done by the SPLA teams: more experienced ones of these could off-load even a whole C-130 within only 15 minutes, despite the primitive means.

Antonov Bombers

Through 1999, the makeshift bombers of the SuAF continued deliberately striking civilian and humanitarian targets in the south: 65 terror attacks were reported in that year, and the number doubled to 132 in the year 2000, the strike by an An-26 from 8 December of that year against the village of Yomciir, during which two civilians were killed and several injured, being also fifth such attack in that month and 259th reported since January 1997. The actual number of these attacks was actually much higher, then most were flown against remote areas along the border with Uganda. The rebels were not able to respond to these attacks, but it is possible that they were responsible for the crash of the SuAF An-32, some 80km east of Khartoum, on 3 June 1999, wile underway from Kassala to Khartoum IAP.

In February 2000 two SuAF Antonovs purposedly bombed the Holy Cross School in Kauda, killing 19 students and a teacher, in an attack that was to become a “norm” for that year. In March Khartoum announced a cease-fire, but the attacks continued. On 12th March Kaya and Kotobi were hit by SuAF, and two days later a German Church delegation witnessed an attack against the school and Episcopal church in Nimule, some 15km from the Ugandan border, which lasted for almost an hour. The first bombs were dropped by MiG-23s around 1000hrs local time, and exploded only some 200m from the school in which more than 1.000 children were attending classes. The second attack reduced the church to rubble, killing one civilian and injuring eleven others, and two subsequent strikes completed the destruction of both objects.

On 20 November 2000 Yei was hit by 14 bombs, killing 18 and injuring more than 50. By the 25th the Sudanese Antonovs bombed also Polit Abur, killing four, and then Mayen Abun, which was hit as a large crow was gathering to collect food from relief agencies. On 26 November 2000 SuAF bombers hit Yei, and then dropped 17 bombs on Ikotos, some 280km east of Juba, and 150km west of Lokichogio, used as a rear base by most of aid agencies active in southern Sudan. The bombs hit the centre of the town, killing numerous civilians, including the senior statistician with the Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Association, who was heading a team from Kenya in compiling data on food shortages.

The heaviest attack in this period was flown on 24 November 2000, when a Catholic school in the Panllit village, in the Bahr al-Ghazal region, was hit, while most of 700 students were attending classes. At least two bombers made three passes each over the site, dropping a total of 14 CBUs, two of which exploded inside the classrooms, killing dozens, and causing survivors to run into the bush in shock, where it took several days to find them all.

On 1 April 2001 a transport aircraft carrying Col. Ibrahim Shamsul-Din, the Sudanese deputy defence minister and 13 other high-ranking officers (including one general, seven lieutenant-generals, three brigadiers, a colonel, a lieutenant colonel, and a corporal) skidded off the runway at Adaril, an oil-rich area some 800m south of Khartoum while on take-off, and crashed. Except for Shamsul-Din, killed were also Gen. Amir Qassim Moussa; Lt.Gens. Malik al-Aaqel al-Hazem, Bakri Omar Khalifa, Sayyed al-Obeid Omar, Kamal-Eddine Ali al-Amin, Ali Arika Koal, Yassin Arabi Mohammed, and Faysal Issa Abu Fatma; Brigadiers Omar al-Amin Kara, Ahmed Youssef Mustafa, and Jamy Abolo; Col. Osman Ahmed al-Mustapha; Lt.Col. Omar Osmal Ali, and Cpl. Mohammed Ahmed. Shamsul-Din was very influential in the Sudanese administration: he backed the coup in which President el-Bashir came to power. Although it was reported that the aircraft could have been shot down by the SPLA, both the government and the rebels denied this.
This crash hit the SPAF at one of the most problematic moments in its history. Not only were there tensions between the government and the Islamic opposition in the north, but SPAF was now about to be considerably modernized as the newfound oil wealth enabled the purchase of more advanced weapons. Due to the loss of some of its most experienced leaders, the military was thrown back for years in development. The next blow followed already on 16 April when in a battle fought near Kurmuk, in the Blue Nile Province, an SPAF unit that was preparing to attack Kurmuk was overrun and 187 SPAF troops killed.

The SuAF retaliated already on the same afternoon, dispatching one of the An-26s equipped as makeshift bombers to attack an airstrip near Kauda (in the Nuba Mountains). This airstrip was actually used by one of the humanitarian aid agencies, and as the attack came this was holding a ceremony to thank a group of Italians for their support. The 14 bombs dropped fell astry, but killed one and injured two. The reason for the strike remains unknown, but even if a mistake could have happened, it must be said that at the time the regime in Khartoum considered all non-Muslims in the south of the country as rebels, and that it was also interesting in driving all international aid agencies out of the region. This fact was clearly illustrated on 9 May 2001, when a Red Cross Beech King Air was hit by ground-fire while underway over government-controlled area towards Khartoum. The Danish co-pilot was killed but otherwise the pilot managed a safe emergency landing.

Such intentions, however, were nothing without a neutralization of the SPLA, and the efforts in this sense were now not to stop. On 18 April it captured the towns of Dendro, Koro-Yara, Adsi, Dim-Saad, and Kilo, in the Blue Nile province, killing 70 SPAF soldiers in the process.

The SPAF immediately staged a counteroffensive, claiming the capture of the town of Menza, on 27 April, but in fact the SPLA continued the advance in the Bahr al-Ghazal area, taking Areden, Belansamensho, and Agoro by 29th. The SPAF then fell in disorder towards north, evacuating even the capitol of Blue Nile province - al-Damazeen, one day later and letting the rebels to capture areas considered as safe since years, including the strategically important town of Raga. The situation developed so swiftly that the SuAF was completely unable to participate in the fighting. Nevertheless it continued striking different targets in the south even after Khartoum on 24 May announced it would halt bombings that killed hundreds of civilians, and displaced 30.000: quite on the contrary, on 26 May the SuAF bombed Awada, and a statement from the Sudanese foreign ministry from 13 June claimed the SuAF was “resuming strikes in order to defend the country in the face of continued aggression” from the SPLA. Khartoum actually felt compelled to such measures, as during June the SPLA advanced on the key garrison town of Wau, which was then put under a siege. Already on 23 June, the SPAF initiated a two-prong attack out of Wau, but the rebels, which claimed to have killed 165 troops and captured considerable amounts of heavy equipment during the battles between Wangkai and Old Fangak, ambushed both columns. Again it was on the SuAF to retaliate and on 26 June an Antonow “bomber” attacked Raga, killing ten civilians in the process: the plane first made one pass to identify the target, and then dropped between seven and nine bombs. All the subsequent reports from the southern Sudan confirm that at the time Khartoum was engaged in a campaign of relentless and merciless bombings of all known humanitarian relief sites in that part of the country. On 14 July a Red Cross clinic in Chelkou was bombed. On 26 July the Red Cross centre in Billing was hit even if several contracted pilots spread a large red cross flag on the ground. On 28 July a relief center at Malualkon was bombed, and two days later another in Akuem. Finally, on 7 August the SuAF aircraft bombed Mapel. The place was at the time a site of operations for Medicins Sans Frontiers (“Doctors Without Borders”), the International Rescue Committee, and Save the Children/UK. The UN recorded at least 33 separate bombing attacks (including a total of over 250 bombs dropped) in July 2001 alone, and reported that aid compounds, as well as OLS and Red Cross planes had been specifically targeted. When the bombing of humanitarian relief sites continued with the same intensity in August, the UN took the unprecedented action of grounding all its humanitarian aircraft flying into southern Sudan.

Sudanese old An-12Bs were also used for terrorising attacks againt civilian population and objects in the south of the country. For this purpose at least some of them were equipped with underwing bomb-shackles for such Russian-supplied weapons like FAB-250. (Artwork by Tom Cooper)

In the summer of 2001 the SuAF was reinforced by several Mi-8T helicopters, purchased from the Lithuanian company Avia Baltika, together with a sizeable amount of spare parts, and followed by delivery of at least one more Mi-8T in January 2002.

On the ground, the SPAF and different local militias now concentrated on terror raids into the area held by the SPLA, the pattern of which became typical for the fighting ever since. The targeted region would first be put under attacks by helicopter gunships and Antonov-bombers, and then the SPAF and SPA units would move in to burn villages, kill, abuse, rape, loot cattle and destroy food stocks. In only few such attacks in the Aweil area between 23 October and 2 November, 111 civilians were killed and 198 enslaved. During the raid on Malek Alel, some 38km of Aweil, on 11 November, for example, 30 women and children were taken captive and 8.000 cows stolen. Few days later also Kumo village, some ten kilometers from Kawdah, in the Nubah Mountains, was raided where several prominent persons were shot on the street.

SuAF An-24, An-26, and - reportedly - An-32 transports are regularly used as bombers: given the low threat over the "targets" they strike, there is little danger for them to be shot down, except that from MANPADs of the SPLA. From available reports it appears that they usually carry between 12 and 16 bombs calibre 100kg, which are probably rolled out from the rear load ramp. This is another shot of the An-24 "911", seen loading cargo at an unknown airport....

...and then taxiing away for a take-off (via Tom Cooper)

Terror Rules

The SuAF continued bombing villages in the south through late November 2001 as well. On 24th November, Kuei Wiir, in northern Bahr al-Ghazal, was hit and three people killed. Only a day later also Pariang was bombed, and then Malwal Kon, where meanwhile a major relief aid supply center in Bahr al-Ghazal was established. Late in the month even the camp for displaced people at Pariang, in western Upper Nile was hit.

While the SPLA reported whole truckloads of military supplies being delivered from the SPLA to LRA’s base in Nsitu, on 31 December 2001 plans became known about Sudan and Russia negotiating a deal for MiG-29 fighters. The SPLA was swift to report that the deal was sealed already on 25th, and that within only few days the first MiG-29s were already based at the al-Ubayyid AB, in the Kordofan province, from where they could guard the oilfields in southern Sudan. However, no independent confirmation was forthcoming.

On 23 January 2002, the SPLA repulsed a smaller SPAF attack in the Nuba region, and in response attacked the garrison at Tulushi. Khartoum retaliated in an especially brutal manner. On 9 February 2002 the village of Akuem was hit by six bombs, which killed two children. Then, on 20 February 2002, two SuAF Mi-24s attacked the food supply center of the UN World Food Program in the village of Bieh, in the oil regions of the western Upper Nile, during an actual food distribution operation, as some 4.000 civilians lined up for rations of beans, vegetable oil, and corn porridge for their children. First of the helicopters fired at least five rockets into the crowd, and then the second opened indiscriminate machine-gun fire at women, children, and aid workers. 17 civilians were killed and over 100 injured.

Faced with violent reactions from the USA, Khartoum officially announced an investigation into the backgrounds of this crime, but nothing became known ever again: in fact the corresponding statement was issued only in order not to cause new problems with Washington. In November 2001, namely, the US special envoy John Danforth arrived in Khartoum, trying to negotiate a stop of attacks against civilian targets in the south, but in protest for the bombing of Bieh Washington recalled the envoy and ceased the mediation, while slamming the Sudanese government in the public.

Mi-24s became active in Sudan already in the early 1990s, when SuAF acquired three Mi-24Ds and two Mi-25s from Libya, together with 100 technicians and six highly paid "volunteer" Libyan pilots. The artwork above shows one of these helicopters. In the mid-1990s, Sudanese "Hinds" were mainly flown by Iraqi pilots, four of which worked with the SuAF from 1992 until 1996. SuAF Mi-24 saw much service ever since, mainly being used for attacks against civilian targets in the south, where they usually operate in pairs. This Mi-24D seen on the photograph on the right side was seen during an attack against the Christian village in the Nuba Mountains, on 4 March 1997. (Artwork by Tom Cooper; Photo: Tom Cooper collection)

After the bombing of Bieh, the situation changed. Fearing the SPLA could intensify attacks on the oil exporting industry, and knowing the USA were supportive for the case of the rebels, Khartoum then stopped further strikes. In fact, on 28 February the Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail wrote a letter of apology to the State Deparment, decaling the readiness of his government for an immediate cease-fire, to be monitored by international monitors.

These were empty words, however, then the Sudanese government was meanwhile trying to establish a capability to intercept all the relief flights. In the summer of 2002 it purchased a second radar station from the British-Italian consortium Alenia Marconi, and installed it at Juba, from where it could detect every aircraft crossing into the Sudanese airspace from the south or west. Another similar station was already positioned at el-Obeid, while subsequently a number of F-7s was stationed at Juba too. In short, the SuAF now became capable of intercepting all the transports flying humanitarian relief.

The fighting was now nearing an end, however, then from mid-January 2002, the USA returned their envoy to Sudan, and organized negotiations that resulted in the so-called Nuba Cease-Fire, supervised by what was to become known as the Joint Military Commission, consisting of 15 military and civilian personnel from Western Europe and North America, which started arriving in country during March.

Initially, the cease-fire held, and during March both the SPAF and the SPLA withdrew their forces from specific areas in the Nuba Mountains. Nevertheless, there was some fighting along the Ugandan border, as – in agreement with Khartoum – the Ugandan Defense Forces used the situation to start a hunt for the LRA, going deep over the border in several places, especially around Magwi and Torit, searching for up to 6.000 women and children hijacked and herded into Sudan to be used as soldiers, sex slaves, and porters. The pattern of Ugandan operations was relatively simple: local LRA bases were first hit by helicopter gunships and artillery and then the troops marched in. These operations were obviously considered so important, that even the President Yoweri Museveni inspected UPDF troops in the area. From mid-March Khartoum – apparently in effort to calm-down the USA claimed the SPAF joined the attack, launching raids into the Nistu and Juba, but it seems that the Sudanese were rather sending supplies to the terrorists, than fighting against them.

In April Sudan signed an agreement for military cooperation with Russia, during the visit by the Sudanese Defence Minister Maj. Gen. Bakri Hasan Salih, which enabled Khartoum to start purchasing advanced arms.

Late in the month there were new reports about fighting between the SPLA and the SPAF in the oil-rich areas of Upper Nile and Bar el-Ghazal provinces, as the government forces newly re-deployed from the Nuba Mountains attacked several rebel strongholds. The offensive drove thousands of civilians from their homes, while the international aid organizations and the UN reported that a new ban for relief flights by Khartoum denied humanitarian relief to at least 1.7 million of Sudanese. Clearly, the SPLA was not to give up under such circumstances, and – gradually – the war was re-started. During the fighting, it was reported that a helicopter belonging to Lunding Petroleum was shot down near Leer, at the southern end of the new “oil road”. The pilot was reported to have survived, and was flown out to South Africa for treatment.

Mirage MiGs
Through May 2002 there were more meetings between the Sudanese and Russians, and renewed reports for Khartoum ordering 12 MiG-29s, as well as Mi-24 and Mi-17 helicopters and armoured personnel carriers in a deal worth between $200 and 300 million, which was to also to see the Russians provide assistance in establishing a tank-assembly line at the GIAD industrial city, in Sudan, which would start putting together T-75s by the end of the year. The Russian oil companies had concessions in Gezira, River Nile and White Nile provinces in central Sudan, controlling sources that have proven reserves of 30 million tonnes (some forecasts estimated the actual reserves up to 200 million tonnes), and Moscow’s interest for deepening the cooperation with Khartoum was obvious.

Except for photographs of Sudanese MiG-21Ms and MIG-21USs, so far no illustrations showing SuAF J-5s or J-6s appeared in the public, although it should be assumed that they are marked in the similar way like this MiG-21M (also seen on one of the photographs above). (artwork by Tom Cooper)

In early July 2002, reports surfaced that the SuAF now had several MiG-29s operational, and that these were flying strikes against rebels near the Ethiopian and the Ugandan borders. Although it is known that several targets – including Kapoeta, re-captured by the SPLA only a month earlier – were bombed at the time, there was still no firm confirmation of any deliveries of MiG-29s from Russia. Quite on the contrary, these "MiG-29s" were most likely ex-Libyan or ex-Iraqi MiG-23s. The SuAF never displayed any MiG-29s in the public: on the contrary, when in mid-July a military parade was held in Khartoum, only MiG-23s were shown. In many contemporary reports it was again claimed that the SuAF MiG-29s would be flown by the Russians only, and that no Sudanese pilot is qualified to fly such aircraft like MiG-29s, but, during the same parade in Khartoum, several “surprises” of different quality – including the tanks named Bashir-1, Zubeir-1 and Abu Fatima-1 (all based on T-55s, but Bashir being equipped with a 120mm gun) were displayed for the first time, pointing at actual Sudanese capabilities.

In August new round of peace-talks were held in Kenya, both sides reaching a framework deal aimed at ending the war. The negotiations failed, however, as in late August the SPLA – after mauling parts of two SPAF divisions – seized Torit, leaving the government once again with only one garrison in the whole south: that in Juba. The SPAF immediately launched a major counteroffensive, aiming to re-capture Torit and Kapoeta. Given the major strategic goal of Khartoum being to consolidate its control of the oil regions of Western and Eastern Upper Nile, it was of little surprise that the cease-fire would not be respected. The new attack of the SPAF resulted in the next humanitarian catastrophe, which developed from 27 September in Eastern and Western Equatoria, after Khartoum imposed a ban on all humanitarian relief flights by closing the airspace over these two provinces. The number of people that were now beyond the reach of humanitarian assistance was estimated by the UN at over 3 million.

In September, the SPAF tried several minor attacks, all of which were repulsed by the SPLA. One, undertaken on 17 September 2002 sa a small mechanized Army unit, supported by a single “Antonov-bomber” and two helicopter gunships, fell into several villages, killing women and children. The SPAF force was finally dealt with in an ambush, where it lost at least one MBT and several APCs, as well as 30 troops killed.

On 18 September 2002 Khartoum accused Israel for building an airfield for the rebels near the Nikosh city, close to the Kenyan border, supposedly “large enough for taking-off and landing of warplanes of large size”. Khartoum added, that the Israelis would be training the SPLA in use of guided anti-tank missiles and tanks, noting that Col. Garang made several visits to Israel. The SPLA swiftly denied such allegations, explaining that Khartoum’s claims are issued in order to ascertain support from other Arab and Islamic states.

Nevertheless, only one day later the SPLA claimed to have killed more than 40 SPAF troops during a battle in vicinity of southern oilfields.

Amid all the suffering, the negotiations between the SPLA and Khartoum in Kenya were re-started, and on 15 October 2002 an agreement for cessation of hostilities was reached, known as “Machakos Agreement”. However, even if finally bringing some respite to the heavily suffering population of the southern Sudan, the Machakos Agreement did not include two other oppositional groups, the DLF and the SLA.

In October, local sources reported that Russia started delivering FAE bombs to Sudan, supposedly for use on SuAF MiG-23s. Napalm-filled fire-bombs are known to have been used by the same type already since 1997, but the use of FAE-weapons remains unconfirmed by independent sources, despite several authoritative reports by the SPLA and air workers in the field. Certain is, however, that during the 1990s the SuAF received several additional An-24, An-26, and at least two An-32 transports from different sources, mainly from the area of the former USSR, where such aircraft are available in abundance. If nothing else, the junta could always send its agents to the UAE, where dozens of Antonov transports can be found at the airfield.

After almost 20 year of extremely bitter and brutal war, there is little mercy for anybody in Sudan: facing a situation where civilian airliners were used by the SPAF for troop transport, the SPLA is meanwhile targeting all aircraft - except those different relief aid organization announce to it. In this way also a SudanAir F.27 "ST-ADY" was shot down by SA-7s while enroute from Malakal to Khartoum, killing all 70 on board. (Via Tom Cooper)

The year 2003 was so far not developing very positively for the SuAF. On 8 April the DLF shot down a Mi-8 helicopter near Tura, in North Darfur: the crew and the commander of the 6th Division which was on board, survived, however. This loss came only three days before the SPAF mounted a major offensive in the area, which saw a massive destruction of a number of villages, and the death of hundreds of civilians: obviously Khartoum was again underway trying to force the NDA to break talks in Kenya, so to be able to blame the rebels for the failure of negotiations. Not having much of a choice, the southerners hit back very hard.

On 25 April, a group of approximately 100 SLA fighters raided the airfield in al-Fasher: in a swift attack, they destroyed SuAF aircraft – including the An-24 “700” – killed 32 Sudanese troops, pilots, and technicians, and then also captured the commander of the base, Maj.Gen. Ibrahim Bushra Ismail. The SPAF immediately deployed a whole battalion of special troops and a reinforced brigade to hunt for the raiders: although 50 of these were subsequently claimed killed and nine captured when they were encircled on the Sin mountain, west of al-Fasher, so far there is no trace of Maj.Gen. Ismail.

Reinforced by new arms shipments from Russia, in June and July 2003 the SPAF and the SDF mobilized over 75.000 new soldiers, and created several new units, including the al-Akhyar Brigade – in clear violation of the agreement from 15 October 2002. The SPAF and SDF number currently almost 200.000 troops, and are capable of continuing the war by moving into the Darfur province, from Juba towards Yei; from Wau towards Rumbek; or from Juba towards Kapoeta. The last area is currently of immense importance for Khartoum, as Malaysia's Petronas – meanwhile the dominant partner in the local Block 5a concession area – has begun active drilling and expanded the road construction (the later in another clear violation of the cease-fire agreement from October 2002). This would at least not come as a surprise, then previously the SPAF offensive in the eastern Upper Nile came also in reaction to drilling operations by the Chinese Petrodar company (other companies involved in oil exploitation in Sudan are China National Petroleum Corp., India's Oil and Natural Gas Company, and Austria's OMV).
The prospects for Sudan are therefore very bleak: as long as the junta in Khartoum will not be ready to accept the reality, the massive suffering will continue. For the SPLA there is little that can change without a truly just peace agreement clearly being offered from Khartoum: after all the suffering inflicted to them, and likely to be inflicted again if they ever again come under the direct control by the government, the southern Sudanese can neither accept a “no peace/no war” situation, nor a military surrender.

Since the late 1980s, the “Civil” war in Sudan is characterized by unprecedented human destructiveness: according to careful UN estimates, no less but 2.2 million people died of causes linked to the war since 1983 (other sources mention figures of as many as 2.7 million killed); at least 4.4 million of people were forced to leave their homes, and Sudan has thus the largest uprooted population in the world.

Newest batches of Mi-24Ps (or Mi-35s) delivered to Sudan wear a slightly darker (or less washed-out) camouflage than former Libyan examples, but their serials remain are continued in the same row. The type was used in combat against the SPLA, and recently in Dharfur Province, flying hundreds of air strikes against various targets, mainly civilians.

 Post Scriptum

After the first independent reports that the 12 MiG-29s were about to be delivered to Sudan, and that the No. 2 Fighter-Intercept Squadron SuAF was about to convert to the type, from late 2003, finally, in July 2004 all the ten MiG-29SEhs and two two-seaters were packed into An-124 Russlan transports and flown to Sudan.

Above and bellow: only in late July 2004 did the Russian TV show videos of Sudanese MiG-29EShs being packed and loaded for delivery to Sudan. (Rossiya TV)

SuAF MiG-29SEh "823" (the other confirmed serial is "821"), prepared on what can be made out from the photographs published so far. (Artwork by Tom Cooper)

Notes & Bibliography

A much updated and extended version - including exclusive details about the composition of the Sudanese Air Force, as well as a history of all its known units - can be found in the book "African MiGs", published by SHI, Vienna (Austria), in 2004 (ISBN: 3-200-00088-0).

Special thanks to Mr. Tom N. and Mr. Pit Weinert for sharing their extensive data-bases to aid creation of this feature.

The folloiwng sources of reference were used as well:

- "THE WORLD IN CONFLICT; Contemporary Warfare Described and Analysed, War Annual 7", by John Laffin, Brassey's, 1996 (ISBN: 1-85753-196-5)

- "AIR WARS AND AIRCRAFT; A Detailed Record of Air Combat, 1945 to the Present", by Victor Flintham, Arms and Armour Press, 1989

Last Updated ( Nov 08, 2010 at 02:18 PM )
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