British Army, Corps of Royal Engineers, Unidentified at Bentiu, South Sudan (Crown Copyright, 2017)

British Army Facing Worsening Situation in South Sudan

Deepening Crisis Causes Concern for Troops on Op TRENTON

The US Government has banned the sale of arms to South Sudan as the security crisis deepens. Currently, some 400 British soldiers are deployed in country on Operation TRENTON.

The US State Department announced Friday, Feb. 2, that it would immediately enact restrictions on arms transfers to South Sudan. Paul Sutphin, the State Department’s senior adviser on Sudan and South Sudan, said the decision will “restrict the flow of lethal material into South Sudan for all parties” and is part of a series of steps “to impose consequences on those who use violence to advance a political agenda.”

South Sudan recalled its ambassador to the United States in response to the decision.

“Garang Diing (Akuong) has been recalled to Juba. They know the meaning diplomatically,” said South Sudan’s First Vice President Taban Deng Gai.

Great Game Playing Out in World’s Newest Country

An earlier attempt to impose an arms embargo through the United Nations failed when Russia and China blocked the move. Both Russia and China have strategic interests in the country.

High-level peace talks are set to resume in South Sudan on Feb. 5, but opposition forces accuse the government of being more interested in “waging war” than in ending the conflict and have vowed to enage in “guerrilla war” if the talks fail.

Alan Boswell, the South Sudan analyst for Small Arms Survey, a Geneva-based group focusing on armed violence, told VoA that “The government thinks it is winning the war militarily, so it doesn’t see any reason to cede any real power through peace negotiations.”

Even if the rebels continue guerrilla warfare, they lack the resources to threaten the regime or “protect the civilian population from government assaults,” Boswell said.

The opposition has ceded critical ground to the government in recent months, including the town of Lasu, its headquarters in the Equatoria region. The rebels still control a handful of areas across the country and roam freely in many rural areas, while key towns and the cities are under government control. It is not clear how many rebels are still fighting.

The peace talks, known as the High-Level Revitalization Forum, opened today, February 5, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and will run until Feb. 16. Aimed at revitalizing a 2015 peace deal between the government and rebel forces, seem inevitably doomed to collapse. The current cease-fire, which came into place on Dec. 24, was violated within hours. Any further agreements are likely to go the same way.

Background: The South Sudanese Civil War

Made an independent country in 2011, by 2013, a political power struggle in South Sudan between President Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar took the country into the South Sudanese Civil War.

As many as 300,000 people are estimated to have been killed in the war, including notable atrocities such as the 2014 Bentiu massacre. Although both sides have supporters from across South Sudan’s ethnic divides, subsequent fighting has been communal, with rebels targeting members of Kiir’s Dinka ethnic group and government soldiers attacking Nuers. About 3 million people have been displaced in a country of 12 million, with about 2 million internally displaced and about 1 million having fled to neighboring countries, especially Kenya, Sudan, and Uganda.

The United Nations has peacekeepers in the country as part of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). Numerous ceasefires were mediated by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO) and were subsequently broken. A peace agreement was signed in Ethiopia under threat of United Nations sanctions for both sides in August 2015. Machar returned to Juba in 2016 and was appointed vice president. Following a second breakout of violence in Juba, Machar was replaced as vice-president and he fled the country.

In addition, Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) also operates in a wide area that includes South Sudan and inter-ethnic warfare is widespread. Tribal rivalry between the Nuer White Army of the Lou Nuer and the Murle in Jonglei has seen intense fighting.

Child Kidnapping as Sociological Warfare

The ongoing conflict has dragged the country into widespread lawlessness and chaos. One feature of this is the increase in child kidnappings. Human rights groups point to desperation born of hunger and a devasted economy that has led to children being taken to be sold.

“Child abductions and trafficking in South Sudan is a real issue that requires an urgent response by the government,” said Edmund Yakani, executive director of the nonprofit Community Empowerment for Progress Organization.

Yakani identified child kidnapping as a particular problem in Jonglei state, where the town of Akobo is located. Here, many in the Murle tribe base “their livelihood” on selling children. One child is worth 20 cows, about $7,000. Others steal them for personal use as wives.

Koang Rambang, the governor of Bieh state, which until last year was part of Jonglei, blamed the government for the trend, arguing that it was part of a strategy to drive a wedge between the Murle and Nuer tribes.

British Army’s Humanitarian Mission Under Threat

In November 2017, the British Army extended the deployment of Royal Engineers to South Sudan for an additional year, meaning soldiers will remain in the war-torn country until April 2020, as reported by Forces.net.

Defence Minister Lord Howe made the announcement at the 2017 United Nations (UN) Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial in Vancouver, saying:

We remain unwaveringly committed to international peace and security and this extension is a demonstration of that. It’s all part of the UK’s efforts to deliver stability worldwide, which will help tackle issues like terrorism and mass migration, keeping us safe at home as well as improving lives internationally.

The British Army’s Engineer Task Force currently deployed to South Sudan is made up of 25 units, totalling 378 service men and women. Leading the Task Force is RHQ 21 Engineer Regiment with sub-units and troops drawn from 39 Engineer Regiment, 71 Engineer Regiment and 62 Works Group. Additional elements have been drawn from 16 Medical Regiment, the RIFLES, Royal Logistics Corps (RLC), REME, Royal Signals Regiment (R SIGNALS), Intelligence Corps, Royal Military Police (RMP), the Brigade of Gurkhas, the RAF and the Navy. The UK’s commitment will last for three years with follow on 6 month rotation from 32 Engr Regt, 21 Engr Regt, 36 Engr Regt and finally 39 Engr Regt.

32 Engineer Regiment handed over to 21 Engineer Regiment on Jan. 23.

Featured Image: Image of swing fogging taking place outside the wire of the United Nations Mission base in South Sudan, Bentiu. The high performance thermal aerosol fog generator being used combats mosquitoes and other insects, pests, fungus diseases, viruses, bacteria, and has deodorization uses.

Royal Engineers have been serving in Malakal, in the north of the country for several months. During their rotation, the UK troops have carried out significant infrastructural work vital to the Mission, including camp construction, building drainage systems and perimeter security structures as well as helicopter landing sites.

In Bentiu, the contingent is building a new permanent hospital, providing medical care to United Nations personnel, and clinical training to local medical staff at the Bentiu State Hospital. They are also working with colleagues from the Indian engineering battalion on remedial work at Rubkona airfield.