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First Satellite Images Available of SAF Troop Deployments Near Sudan's Volatile North-South Border
WASHINGTON, DC -- The Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP) has confirmed that the Sudanese Armed Forces, or SAF, has deployed company-sized units of troops equipped with light armor and artillery in areas of South Kordofan around the oil-producing Abyei region and other strategic areas along Sudan’s volatile North-South border. However, the project’s first report also indicates that the SAF troops do not appear prepared for imminent forward movement. This provides a window for the peace process to address outstanding North-South issues which, if unresolved, could trigger renewed conflict.
Troop buildups have been reported on both sides of the border. Authoritative sources, such as the Small Arms Survey, indicate approximately 55,000 SAF troops along the border of South Kordofan – half the strength of Sudan’s standing regular army – spread out over some 100 garrisons. The satellite imagery collected to date by SSP is consistent with those reports, and it provides photographic corroboration of company-size deployments, light armor, mobile artillery, and other offensive military equipment, as well as helicopter transport.
The imagery analysis, prepared by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, presents fresh and unprecedented high-resolution imagery of a potential conflict zone captured by DigitalGlobe, a leading commercial satellite firm, which is providing imagery and additional analysis. These images, combined with the Enough Project’s field reports, provide a baseline understanding of what’s happening in flashpoint areas, where the combination of large numbers of security forces and high levels of tension could cause localized incidents to escalate, drawing both sides into a wider conflict.
Actor and activist George Clooney, a co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project, said:
“These first images and analysis have deepened our understanding of the evolving situation following Southern Sudan’s historic vote on independence. Although the SAF in South Kordofan apparently remains a force largely in hiding, we showed they are field-deployed, and they are controlling major roads by running checkpoints. Though they are not showing signs of advancing, we confirmed that they’re equipped with helicopter transport, artillery, armored personnel carriers and trucks. Our first report represents the best recent information on the military situation in Sudan publicly available.”
The findings of this report include the following:
- SAF deployments near Muglad, Kadugli, Kharassana and other areas appear to be deployed at company strength, in groups of 75 to 225 troops, equipped with helicopter transport, light armor and artillery.
- Importantly, these troops do not appear to be preparing to move in the near future. SSP has documented roadwork near known and suspected military bases, but the images do not show major movement of fuel trucks, supply convoys, and troop transports consistent with imminent forward operations.
- The report documents checkpoints reported by the U.N. north of Abyei Town on the road to Diffra in the oil-producing northern part of Abyei's territory. The checkpoints are in the same region where busloads of southerners returning home from the North have been ambushed and held. Returnees have reported many cases of rape.
- These images demonstrate SSP’s ability to monitor the movements and activity of armed actors. SSP is watching all actors in Sudan and both sides of the border.
John Prendergast, Co-founder of the Enough Project and of the Satellite Sentinel Project, said:
“The Satellite Sentinel Project aims to shine a light on potential conflict areas to deter the resumption of civil war and ensure accountability in Sudan. We are focusing on the areas along the border where the most likely conflicts may occur. The idea is to monitor these hotspots and deter human rights crimes before they happen. The imagery we captured does not reveal any violations of the CPA by either side so far. Yet in the absence of negotiated post-referendum arrangements, and given the unresolved status of Abyei, continued vigilance is required.”
‘A New Toolbox for Promoting Peace by Safeguarding Civilians’
Two retired, two-star U.S. Army Generals, Major General Paul Eaton and Major General James “Spider” Marks, who volunteered their expertise to the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, concurred with the analysis of the imagery and lauded the project.
“The Satellite Sentinel Project has broken new ground and is providing not just a new tool, but a new toolbox for promoting peace by safeguarding civilians,” said Major General Paul Eaton (USA-ret.), former chief of infantry for the U.S. Army.
DigitalGlobe Vice President Stephen Wood said the company has imaged nearly 750,000 square kilometers of Sudan in the last 30 days. “With access to imagery and information from the most capable constellation of high-resolution commercial satellites, the Satellite Sentinel Project can accurately monitor actions on the ground in Sudan during this very critical period. Our collaboration honors a long tradition of providing a clear lens through which we can monitor our world for its long term betterment, and survival.”
The Satellite Sentinel Project marks the first sustained, public effort to systematically monitor and report on potential hotspots and threats to security along a border. Clooney conceived of the innovative project on October 4, 2010, while on a fact-finding mission to South Sudan with Prendergast. The project is funded primarily by Not On Our Watch.
“Traditionally, the human rights community has documented abuses that have already occurred,” said Dr. Charlie Clements, Executive Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. “Satellite Sentinel Project represents a new opportunity for policy makers and the public to have access to the same types of information that could save lives if widely shared and acted upon.”
UNOSAT Manager Francesco Pisano said, “This is a demonstration that commercial satellites have reached a level of operational reliability and technical excellence that holds promises for the future of impartial and internationally monitored human security and human rights protection. I am impressed with the level of collaboration we have with DigitalGlobe over Sudan. We are looking forward to building on this experience and we’ll work to replicate this success in future.”
About Satellite Sentinel Project
The Satellite Sentinel Project combines satellite imagery analysis and field reports with Google’s Map Maker to deter the resumption of war between North and South Sudan. The project provides an early warning system to deter mass atrocities by focusing world attention and generating rapid responses on human rights and human security concerns. This project is the result of an unprecedented collaboration between Not On Our Watch, the Enough Project, Google, the United Nations UNITAR Operational Satellite Applications Programme (UNOSAT), the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, DigitalGlobe and Trellon, LLC.
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Contact: Greg Hittelman