The Sudan Revolutionary Front has repulsed a massive assault on their southern territory in Sudan’s South Kordofan state. The battle has cemented rebel control over critical roads into South Sudan and the Yida refugee camp, but also illustrates Sudan’s growing desire to push deep into rebel territory.
According to rebel soldiers and a military spokesman for SRF – Gadi Remboi – the battle began on January 4th, when an unconfirmed number of Sudanese troops advanced towards the town of Toroje, along the road into South Sudan. Civilians along the route say the government forces moved north from Khirasana, near the oil-producing Heglig area along the disputed north-south border. According to Remboi the SAF attack included nearly 300 machine-gun-mounted trucks and 10 tanks.
SRF forces engaged the column as it moved towards a garrison at Toroje, along the north-south road. Remboi says further fighting took place in Angolo and Dabakia as rebel troops pushed the government forces back out of their territory. After nearly 24 hours of fighting Remboi claimed the SRF had killed 314 government soldiers, destroyed two tanks and 54 Land Cruisers and captured another 24 Land Cruisers.
As the fighting began on January 4th, Sudanese Military Spokesman Colonel Al-Sawarmi Kalid Saad announced that government troops had captured the same areas – Toroje, Angolo and Debakia – as part of the first phase of it’s operation to clear SRF forces from the western Nuba Mountains.
Neither the numbers provided by Remboi nor the exact accounts of the fighting in Angolo and Debakia could be independently verified. But Nuba Reports visited Toroje on January 5th and found SRF forces in control of the area. Two destroyed tanks belonging to the Sudanese Armed Forces could be seen, as well as 10 destroyed Land Cruisers. Also visible were the bodies of over 100 SAF troops as well as the bodies of two SRF soldiers – one from Darfur’s JEM forces and one from the SPLA-North of South Kordofan.
Four civilians were killed in the assault on Toroje. According to area chief Abdul Aziz Kafi Shilbak, one was killed in by an explosion while three elderly civilians were executed by SAF soldiers as they entered the town. Shilbak said more than 150 houses in the three towns were destroyed during the fighting.
Most of the other civilians fled the town as the column of government forces approached, and are now taking refugee in nearby mountain caves. Civilian sources in Debakia and Angolo also reported that the SRF was in control of these areas though Nuba Reports was not able to visit them to confirm this firsthand.
Toroje, Angolo and Debakia all sit in a critical corridor linking the Nuba mountains with South Sudan. Hundreds of thousands of civilians travel that road to and from the Yida refugee camp just south of the border to seek shelter from fighting. They also use the road bring food back home from the camp after food distributions organized by humanitarian agencies such as the World Food Program.
Sudan alleges the SPLA-North maintain links to the South Sudanese army, and use the road to communicate with and resupply in South Sudan.
Toroje was the sight of another large battle in February of 2012, around 6 months after the war reignited in the Nuba Mountains. In that battle, the SPLA-North pushed SAF forces out of the area, establishing control over the road into South Sudan. The SPLA-N and the SRF coalition have held the position ever since.