Aerial Attacks on Civilian Agriculture and Food Supplies: ‘Starving’ the Nuba” (Part Two of “Looking Directly into the Heart of Darkness)

By Eric Reeves

September 27, 2014 (SSNA) — On 24 September 2014 I presented and offered preliminary analysis of a document I had received on 22 September 2014, from a source within Sudan whom I trust implicitly. It was an explosive document, containing the "Minutes of the Military and Security Committee Meeting held in the National Defense College [Khartoum]"; the meeting referred to took place on August 31, 2014; the date of the minutes for the document is September 1, 2014 (Sunday).

What makes the document so extraordinary is the participation of the regime’s most senior military and security officials, expressing themselves freely, and in the process disclosing numerous highly consequential policy decisions, internal and external. I discussed at some length issues of authenticity, and concluded the evidence was simply overwhelming that this was an authentic document, recording the words of men of immense power speaking without restraint about their goals, their fears, their policies. Subsequently I have received a good deal of additional evidence of the authenticity of the document, with no meaningful or substantial challenge offered to my assertion of that authenticity.

The words I am reporting are indeed the words of the men who control power, especially military and security power in Sudan, and have overseen 25 years of savage, self-enriching tyranny. The 30 pages of minutes are dense with revelations—some small, some large, some not so much revelations as shocking confirmation of what has been evident but never publicly confirmed by the National Congress Party/National Islamic Front regime.

In attendance were fourteen of the very most powerful men in the increasingly militarized regime (only two were not senior military officers). These included First Lt. General and Vice President Bakri Hassan Saleh, who will become the most powerful man within the regime if President (and Field Marshal) Omar al-Bashir dies from his health problems, or is medically unable to run again for president in the elections of 2015.

The destruction of agricultural production and food supplies in South Kordofan and Blue Nile

In the present brief analysis I will concentrate on the military tactics of the Sudan Armed Forces in South Kordofan, focusing particularly on the effort to destroy agricultural production in this region and thus starve people into submission (a similar campaign is underway in rebel-controlled areas of Blue Nile State to the east). That this is the military goal is made quite clear at several points in the minutes. Indeed, "starve" is a word explicitly used to describe the goal of this ongoing campaign, now of more than three years:

"This year the Sudan People’s Army (SPLA-N) managed to cultivate large areas in South Kordofan State. We must not allow them to harvest these crops. We should prevent them. Good harvest means supplies to the war effort. We must starve them, so that, commanders and civilians desert them and we recruit the deserters to use them in the war to defeat the rebels," Lt. General Siddiig Aamir, Director of M.I. [Military Intelligence] and Security (page 10).

This savage, ruthless assessment neglects to point out that the vast majority of agricultural production is a civilian undertaking, and that it will be civilians—primarily children, women, and the elderly—who will suffer most from this destruction of food supplies.

Declaring that negotiations with the rebels in South Kordofan and Blue Nile are a "waste of time," a senior general, Chief of Joint Operations, indicates that the military option is the only one to be considered:

"We should attack them before the harvest and bombard their food stores and block them completely," Lt. General Imadadiin Adaw, Chief of Joint Operations (page 14).

Other moments and comments in the minutes comport fully with this assessment.

[For my comments on use of the English translation of the Arabic original, see ¶ 5 of my previous analysis, 24 September 2014; see also several additional pages of the Arabic original here in .JPG format; previous pages of the text may be found here)]

Let us be very clear about what is being said here: the goal of aerial bombing attacks is to destroy the ability of people in rebel-controlled areas of the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile to harvest a bountiful sorghum crop, a harvest that should continue into December. There is of course no conceivable way in which only the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army-North (SPLM/A-N) can be denied the food harvested; the widespread destruction will work to deny all the people of the Nuba Mountains food.

The Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWSNet) has given us a dramatically clear picture of what will follow from Khartoum’s assault on food in the Nuba: Chart 1 of "FEWSNet Projected food security outcomes, July to September 2014" indicates that most of the people in of the Nuba Mountains (as well as people in other parts of South Kordofan) fall within "food insecurity" Category 4, "Emergency"; this is one step short of the final Category (5): "Catastrophe/Famine." While the FEWSNet predictions suggest that the sorghum crop, if harvested, could bring most people down to Category 3 ("Crisis"), it is precisely this crop that has been targeted. The effect will be to push people into Category 5 in large numbers.

Watching Catastrophe Unfold

A great many have already perished, although we can’t know how many: Khartoum refuses all humanitarian access to rebel-held areas, including assessment missions. There have been, nonetheless, many surreptitious hit-and-run assessments, but not the kind of sustained assessments of the full range of humanitarian indicators that should be measured. In early 2012, the feckless African Union belatedly submitted a proposal for humanitarian access. The SPLM-N leadership immediately accepted the conditions proposed by the AU mediators; Khartoum refused. And although the regime has at various times made disingenuous noises about allowing humanitarian access, the pressure from the African Union has entirely dissipated and Khartoum is predictably and resolutely obdurate in continuing the humanitarian embargo. This denial of relief aid to acutely distressed civilians is reminiscent of the humanitarian embargo that accompanied the genocidal military campaign of the 1990s, a campaign designed to exterminate the Nuba people. It also meets the international legal standard for "crimes against humanity." The campaign of the 1990s came perilously close to success.

And now again, there is a complete humanitarian embargo on a large part of South Kordofan State and a relentless aerial campaign to destroy agricultural production and food availability. This campaign has forced hundreds of thousands to flee and brought many hundreds of thousand more to the brink of starvation—Khartoum’s resumed ambition. Many tens of thousands have fled to Unity State in South Sudan, most to the Yida refugee camp that has, in turn, been bombed by Khartoum’s aircraft. Ground attacks also focused on villages with no military presence, on food supplies, and the destruction of homes, markets, churches, mosques, and all that might assist in agricultural production. Hospitals have been repeatedly, deliberately targeted—by advanced military jet aircraft with full knowledge of their targets.

The most common weapon in this campaign is the Antonov "bomber," a Russian-built cargo plane retrofitted to permit the highly imprecise dropping of shrapnel-loaded barrel bombs on civilian targets, including villages and fields. The effect has been to bring people to such a state of fear that they cannot work their lands, but rather flee villages for caves and ravines (see photographs here). At this critical moment in the agricultural cycle, Khartoum’s campaign of aerial destruction and terror has been ordered to re-commence, precisely because there has been a relatively successful sorghum crop (sorghum is the food staple of most people in both South Kordofan and Blue Nile states).

Crimes Against Humanity

This campaign of deliberately denying food to civilians for more than three years violates international human rights and humanitarian law on numerous counts. Moreover, the international community has known full well that these crimes are occurring, but refuses to confront the Khartoum regime over its campaign of ethnically-targeted civilian destruction. The world has been provided with numerous first-hand accounts over the past three years—by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Enough Project, as well as many intrepid journalists (a short bibliography appears below, followed by excerpts from several reports). But no action has been taken, no threats have been made, even as the repeated, systematic attacks on civilian food supplies, in aggregate, clearly constitute crimes against humanity as specified in the Rome Statute that serves as the basis for the International Criminal Court.

[ See pp. 19 – 20 of "’They Bombed Everything that Moved’: Aerial Military Attacks on Civilians and Humanitarians in Sudan, 1999 – 2013" | |


"On the Obstruction of Humanitarian Aid," African Studies Review, Volume 54, Number 3 (December 2011) pp. 165 – 74 | ]

But attention has drifted from the Nuba and Blue Nile, as it had previously drifted from ongoing genocide in Darfur. Unless Khartoum’s (now publicly) avowed commitment to "starve" the people of the Nuba is met with swift and forceful international condemnation and pressure, we may be sure that people, in great numbers, will in fact die. 

What we have known about the assault on the people of South Kordofan: A brief bibliography

Further reports, including key excerpts:

  • The Enough Project, "Rapid Food Security And Nutrition Assessment: South Kordofan," 18 October 2012

Experts in health assessments in humanitarian crises at The John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health vetted the assessment and found its research and methodology to be sound and its findings to be credible. The assessment was comprised of Mid-Upper Arm Circumference, or MUAC, screenings that were conducted on children 6-59 months old and standard food security questionnaires that were administered to heads of households.

The assessment is significant because it is the first international, third-party, on-the-ground assessment of food security and nutrition in South Kordofan since June 2011, when the government of Sudan banned all international humanitarian aid organizations from operating in the state. No similar assessment has been carried out in Blue Nile state; however, the condition of refugees from Blue Nile indicates that the food security situation in that state may be comparable to that in South Kordofan today.

The findings verify suspicions held by the international community for more than a year: that the government of Sudan’s violent campaign against civilian populations in South Kordofan state and its intentional denial of international humanitarian aid to areas controlled by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, or SPLM-N, have resulted in severe malnutrition and dire food security outlooks.

  • UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, "South Sudan: Aid organizations prepare for new refugee influx from Sudan," 3 October, 2012:

Humanitarian organizations have reported that up to 40,000 refugees affected by conflict and food shortages in Sudan could arrive in South Sudan by the end of the year, after the heavy rains and flooding subside.

Since the conflict broke out in Sudan’s Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile regions in 2011, over 170,000 refugees have fled to South Sudan’s Unity and Upper Nile States in search of safety. At the height of the crisis in May 2012, up to 32,000 people crossed into the Upper Nile’s Maban County within just a few days. Many arrived malnourished and exhausted, having walked for weeks without food or clean water. Heavy rainfall and flooding in August led to a decrease in the number of refugees crossing into South Sudan, as most border areas became impassable. But aid workers expect the influx of refugees to increase when the rains subside in November.

“The crisis is certainly not over. We anticipate that up to 350,000 Sudanese will be hosted in South Sudan by the end of 2013,” said OCHA’s Operations Director, John Ging, who visited refugee camps in South Sudan last month.

  • The Sudan Consortium: African and International Civil Society Action for Sudan, Human Rights Update (June 2014), "Three-year anniversary of outbreak of conflict sees highest number of attacks directed against the civilian population of Southern Kordofan.

The Government of Sudan’s (GoS) military offensive against opposition forces of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) in Southern Kordofan reached a new level of intensity during June, provoking increased concern over the fate of civilians in those areas.

Between 1 and 22 June [2014], monitors on the ground recorded a total of 1,062 bombs and 1,229 artillery/rocket shells landing on or near civilian settlements in Southern Kordofan during the course of 82 separate attacks. This represents the highest number of attacks directed against the civilian population in Southern Kordofan since the conflict began in 2011.

Additionally, on 16 June, Sudanese government aircraft bombed a hospital run by the international organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). This follows a similar attack on the Mother of Mercy Hospital in South Kordofan at the beginning of May, an attack which was widely condemned by the international community. These repeated attacks on clearly marked medical facilities indicate that, at the very least, the Sudanese government is failing to take all feasible precautions to ensure that its attacks do not violate the protected status of these facilities under international humanitarian law. A more straightforward interpretation of the observed facts on the ground is that the hospitals are being deliberately targeted.

  • Arry Organization, "Three Years of War in Nuba Mountains: Another failure of the International Community," June 5, 2014:

After three years of war in Nuba Mountains, the indiscriminate bombardment and the massive human rights violation continue to escalate. During the last five weeks, the Janjaweed (Rapid Respond Forces as the government calls them), were deployed in large numbers to several areas in Nuba Mountains. The government media reported on April 26, 2014, that the Janjaweed militias were legal troops, affiliated with the National Security forces; and their mission in Nuba Mountains was to end the insurgency in the region during this summer.

Few days after the militia arrived in Southern Kordofan, they engaged in fighting in Daloka with the SPLM/N and lost one of their important leaders. In response to the Janjaweed defeat, the Sudanese government bombed Kauda for three days in a row with over 54 bombs from May 27 to May 30, 2014. The indiscriminate bombardment destroyed civilian houses, orphans school and humanitarian NGO offices. More importantly, the civilians in Kauda reported many unexploded bombs, which endanger the lives of children and farmers in the area.

According to news reports and local resources, the Sudanese intelligence forces in Kadugli, executed 30 local merchants on May 28, 2014. The merchants were arrested in different periods in the last few months; as they were accused of smuggling food supplies to the SLM/N controlled areas. According to the resources; another 24 were executed the same day in Khor Alfan near the military base in Kadugli. The second groups identity was not confirmed, but some of them might be civilians accused of supporting the SPLM/N.

The reports from inside Southern Kordofan continue to be more difficult to get out, because of the increased security restriction on movement and the communication censorship. The humanitarian situation in the region continues to deteriorate, but no solutions appear in the horizon.

  • Eric Reeves, "An interview with Dr. Tom Catena concerning the Nuba Mountains, and a humanitarian update on the region," 9 March 2013

The sorghum harvest this year—the staple crop of the region—was very poor, according to Dr. Catena. People in large numbers are on the verge of joining more than 200,000 refugees who have already fled to South Sudan and Ethiopia. Many spot nutritional surveys reveal Global Acute Malnutrition above the emergency threshold; the most recent of these found a 30 percent Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) rate among children under five; this is double the international threshold for a humanitarian emergency. Moreover, a frightening percentage of children under five are experiencing Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM), a condition typically fatal without therapeutic intervention.

Let us be perfectly clear: all this is intentional.

It is a campaign of annihilation in response to military rebellion by the indigenous Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army-North (SPLM/A-N). The SPLA-N has repeatedly mauled Khartoum’s regular and militia forces, especially in the Nuba, and the response has been a systematic aerial campaign to destroy agricultural production. It is on the verge of success, as people are simply too fearful to plant, tend, or harvest most of their larger fields. At the same time, Khartoum maintains a complete humanitarian embargo on regions under rebel control (the great majority of territory in the Nuba).

The weapon of choice is the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) Antonov “bomber.” Of course the Antonov is not a military bomber, but rather a retrofitted Russian cargo plane from which crude but deadly barrel bombs are simply rolled out the cargo bay, spreading a hail of shrapnel in all directions on impact. The have no militarily purposeful precision, but they are extraordinarily efficient in creating civilian terror. Early on in the conflict, Khartoum also deployed Sukhoi-25 military jet aircraft, also based at el-Obeid, but Dr. Catena told me that the SAF has settled into a pattern of sufficient regularity with Antonovs to keep fear so high that people are unable to farm.

Khartoum is presently concluding a deal with Ukraine to purchase five more Antonovs.

The conspicuous precedent here is the genocidal campaign against the Nuba in the 1990s, which very nearly succeeded in destroying them. Current efforts are neither surprising not out of character for this regime. And yet former U.S. special envoy for Sudan Princeton Lyman, in a moment of outrageously ignorant presumption, declared in late June 2011 that,

“Nuba Mountain people are fighting back and I don’t think the North is capable of dislodging large numbers of people on an ethnic basis…. Second, I’m not sure that’s the objective of the government.” (June 28, 2011).

[Presumably, in light of the evidence now at hand, Ambassador Lyman no longer cleaves to his factitious skepticism about Khartoum’s "objective"—ER, September 27, 2014] [full interview with Dr. Catena, the only surgeon working in the Nuba Mountains, at |

  • Sudan Tribune, "NISS to deploy more rapid support militias to suppress South Kordofan rebels," April 26, 2014 (KHARTOUM)

The Sudanese National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) has announced that it is deploying additional Rapid Support Forces (RSF) troops to South Kordofan in order to end rebellion in the state. The RSF militia, which is widely known as the Janjaweed militias, were originally mobilised by the Sudanese government to quell the insurgency that broke out in Sudan’s western region of Darfur in 2003.

The militia was activated and restructured again in August last year under the command of NISS to fight rebel groups in Darfur region, South Kordofan and Blue Nile states following joint attacks by Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF) rebels in North and South Kordofan in April 2013…. The move comes within a framework of a plan to intensify military operations in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states following statements made by senior military commanders that this summer would witness the end of rebellion in both areas.

  • Radio Dabanga, "Intensified attacks on South Kordofan villages displace more than 100,000," 14 May 2014

The security situation in the Nuba Mountains, South Kordofan, deteriorated since mid April, when government forces began their attacks on areas in Rashad and Habila localities. As of 12 May, the estimated number of newly displaced in South Kordofan is close to 116,000. Several areas west of Rashad town were bombed by the Sudanese Air Force from 13 to 18 April. The area of Abri in neighbouring Habila locality was bombed on 28 April, the Nuba-based Human Rights and Development Organisation (Hudo) reported in its April report. The Sudan Armed Forces, backed by the paramilitary Popular Defence Forces, and the Rapid Support Forces also attacked the areas on the ground.

The aerial and ground attacks on the villages west of Rashad town, Um Darawa, Tendimin, El Beyeera, El Mangala, Serein, Elsaraf, Woroula, Douma, El Mansour, El Moglum and Keleiro, have resulted in a wave of displacement towards Rashad town, where more than 7,000 newly displaced have occupied schools and mosques. Other families fled to Abu Gebeiha and Abbasiya, and as far as Um Rawaba and El Obeid in North Kordofan. Elders and pregnant women, who failed to walk a distance of 15 km to Rashad, sought refuge in the mountains. The newly displaced are, apart from food and shelter, in dire need of drinking water, as many water resources have been destroyed.

In the areas controlled by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), the Sudanese Air Force has intensified its aerial bombardments in April, in particular the area around Kauda. The bombings also affected the Nuba who were living in refugee camps in the South Sudanese Upper Nile State and Unity State, and fled from the fighting there, and returned to the southern areas of South Kordofan. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that per 12 May, the estimated number of newly displaced in South Kordofan, as a result of the intensified fighting in April and May, is close to 116,000.

  • REPORT from UN High Commissioner for Refugees, 11 April 2014

[There is only one air force in the various conflicts in Sudan—that of the Sudan Armed Forces; although UNHCR cannot bring itself to state this indisputable fact, but instead refers to "unidentified aircraft," this shows that Khartoum is willing to attack Nuba refugees in South Sudan, as they did in a November 2011 attack: two bombs hit the camp; one, which fortunately did not detonate, hit the perimeter of the school in the camp—ER]

UNHCR is deeply concerned about the safety of refugees and aid workers in Yida, South Sudan, after unidentified aircraft circled over the settlement several times on 9 April [2014]. The sighting raised fears that the refugee settlement may soon come under direct or indirect military attack. The incident came just two days after the aerial bombardment of Neem, a community 26 kilometres north of Yida and close to the disputed border area of Jau. Local authorities reported that on 7 April a suspected military aircraft dropped more than five bombs over Neem….

Yida, a spontaneous settlement sheltering 70,000 Sudanese refugees, has come under aerial attack before. In November 2011, two bombs fell within the camp, including one close to a school for refugee children. Yida is located in the north of Unity State, close to the highly militarized Jau corridor.

Eric Reeves’ book-length study of greater Sudan (Compromising With Evil: An archival history of greater Sudan, 2007 – 2012;; review commentary at:

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