Sudan News: Clooney satellite project shows preparations for assault

BOSTON — The Sudan army is preparing a major assault against the Nuba people who live in Sudan’s southern state of South Kordofan, according to new imagery from George Clooney's Satellite Sentinel Project.

New satellite images released Wednesday show that the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) has cut off the main evacuation routes from the area, encircled the remaining local civilian population in the last rebel strongholds of the Nuba Mountains, and is building roads and lengthening the closest airstrip within striking range.

“With only two months left until the expected start ofthe rainy season, the Sudan army has a limited window to launch a full-scale assault on the Kauda Valley and the surrounding region where the majority of the remaining Nuba people live," said John Prendergast, Enough Project co-founder.

"As they did with the Ngok Dinka in Abyei and with the Fur and Zaghawa in Darfur, the Khartoum regime is driving the Nuba people out of their homelands in order to remove the support base for the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army – North," said Prendergast.

Prendergast urged the international community to establish a "no fly zone" to protect civilians from Sudan military attacks.

More from GlobalPost: Clooney offers solutions for Sudan

“For years, there has been talk and debate about the efficacy of a no-fly-zone or some other kind of deterrent to the Khartoum regime’s use of air power to attack civilian targets," said Prendergast. "Now would be the time for the United Nations Security Council or interested member states to create that deterrent, and combine it with a cross-border humanitarian aid operation to break the blockade the regime has created with its denial of access for emergency assistance."

Prendergast warns it if no protective action is taken, "thousands of Nuba civilians will die.”

The evidence in the satellite project's new report shows a pattern almost identical to the Government of Sudan’s road building activity and disposition of forces revealed by satellites in March of last year, before SAF’s May bombardment, invasion and displacement of the indigenous population of 110,000 Ngok Dinka who lived in the oil-producing border area of Abyei.

Digital Globe satellite images, analyzed for satellite project by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI), documents newly elevated roads pointing into the Nuba Mountains from SAF-controlled areas and the buildup of forces in positions where they can easily deploy along those roads with heavy armor, artillery and close air support, including helicopter gunships.

Sudanese road crews are, in one area, within 6 miles of completing the roads required to deploy heavy armor into the Kauda Valley, an area controlled by SPLA-North rebels.

“These [road construction] projects will be the weapon for defeating the enemies.” said South Kordofan Governor Ahmed Haroun in October 2011. Haroun was indicted in 2008 for crimes against humanity in Darfur by the International Criminal Court.

The United States was urged to take quick action by Enough Project Executive Director John C. Bradshaw.

“The United States, together with the international community, must act swiftly to fulfill its responsibility to protect the Nuba people who are being bombarded, and starved, by their own government," said Bradshaw.

Related: Clooney angers Sudan regime

"Sudan appears to be several weeks away from being able to launch a full-scale, final assault on the Kauda Valley and the surrounding area, where most of the 200,000 Nuba people who remain in South Kordofan, according to UN estimates, are sheltering in caves, cut off from humanitarian aid,” said Bradshaw.

The Sudan Armed Forces appear to control choke points along the routes civilians have taken over the past eight months to flee South Kordofan into South Sudan.

The satellite project has also observed SAF efforts to lengthen and level the airstrip at Talodi, which is approximately 30 miles from the Kauda Valley. The improvements to the airstrip, indicated by the presence of construction machinery, increased the length of the strip to 1,800 meters from its initial length of 1,100 meters. The Talodi airstrip is therefore now capable of accommodating Antonov planes used for bombing and other attack planes for high-tempo operations.

Recent imagery shows four SAF helicopters, including three gunships, at the Kadugli airbase. Also, main battle tanks, apparent mechanized infantry units, and occupied artillery positions are clearly visible at SAF’s 14th Division headquarters in Kadugli. These units are all capable of rapid deployment to the Kauda Valley.

SSP analysis has further determined that between May 21, 2011 and approximately November 1, 2011 the civilian population in a section of Buram likely fled. The Government of Sudan has identified Buramas a rebel-controlled area.

“The disturbing pattern, indicated by satellite imagery analyzed by SSP, has been seen before," said Harvard Carr Center Executive Director Charlie Clements. "In the case of Abyei, the international community did not heed the warnings we issued six weeks in advance. The community of nations must not again fail to act while some 200,000 Nuba civilian lives are in danger.”

Read the Satellite Sentinel Project report, “Siege: Evidence of SAF Encirclement of the Kauda Valley”: [See attached PDF of report. Note: The report and press release are EMBARGOEDuntil 12:01 a.m. Eastern on 25 January 2012.]

The Satellite Sentinel Project combines satellite imagery analysis and fieldreports with Google’s Map Maker to deter the resumption of full-scale civil warbetween North and South Sudan. Not On Our Watch, a group of Hollywood stars and producers led by Clooney, provided seed money to launch SSP.

The Enough Project contributes field reports and policy analysis, and, together with Not On Our Watch and Sudan Now, pressures policymakers by urging the public to act. Google and Trellon collaborated to design the web platform. Harvard Humanitarian Initiative provides research and leads the collection, human rights analysis, and corroboration of on-the-ground reports that contextualizes the imagery. DigitalGlobe provides satellite imageryand additional analysis.

More from GlobalPost: Sudan violence amounts to war crimes

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Sign up for The Top of the World, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.