It was a gem of a plan.
Make that “JEM” – short for the Justice and Equality Movement, the leading rebel group in Darfur that launched this past weekend’s attack on Omdurman and the Sudan capital of Khartoum.
As a result, the dynamics in Darfur and Sudan have changed. That the rebels could advance some 600 kilometres, from west to east across Sudan's open desert, without so much as word reported in or outside of Sudan, then attack the nation’s capital, speaks volumes.
The Sudan government responded by saying the rebels were beaten back, were on the run, and that the remnants were being hunted down.
Abdullahi Osman El-Tom, the head of strategic planning for JEM, had a different view, and told me that the rebels had withdrawn.
El-Tom called the attack a success and said it put the Sudan government on notice. “It has told the government that we have the capability of striking in the heart of the country, not just fighting in the deserts of Darfur,” he said. "Otherwise they will continue bombing in Darfur.”
Given Sudan’s substantial military, said to number some 100,000 soldiers, an air force of aging Russian-made bombers used extensively against civilian targets in Darfur, and a mercenary force of janjaweed fighters, what went wrong?
Reports of the fighting have been sketchy. Some say that at least 60 rebels were killed and the official Sudan news agency claimed 300 rebels had been arrested with 60-70 vehicles seized or destroyed.
State television in Sudan broadcast images of corpses, blood and burned vehicles in the streets, as well as captured rebels, two of whom appeared to have been badly beaten.
Sudan has accused Chad of backing the rebels and has severed diplomatic ties with its neighbour. Chad has denied involvement in the attack.
El-Tom denied that the rebels had support from Chad. “The Chadians can hardly protect themselves,” he said. He explained that the equipment used in the rebel attack had all been captured by rebels from the Sudan army.
“We’ve taken the equipment from Sudan,” he said. “There’s no shortage of arms, no shortage of vehicles. You take them from Sudan.”
El-Tom said the rebels have extensive support in the general population and the armed forces. During clashes with the Sudan army, the soldiers “drop their arms and [abandon] cars and run in the opposite direction.”
That the JEM were “defeated” by Sudan is not as significant as that a major weakness of the Sudan government, which has operated behind a façade of total control, has been exposed.
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