EXECUTIVE SUMMARY—As SOFREP reported Thursday, the violence in South Sudan is indicative of the overall trend in the decline of regional security and stability across the Sahel and Central Africa.  In the past several days, what allegedly began as a minor dispute between rival ethnic fashions among military forces in South Sudan, has escalated to widespread chaos and disorder, with divisions being drawn along ethnic and political lines.  As US and other western nations evacuate their non-essential personnel and restrict travel to the country, there have been several significant developments in-country.

BACKGROUND—The majority of tension in South Sudan is derived from a combination of ethnic and political divisions.  Currently, there are two primary players to the conflict and these divisions, one being current South Sudanese President Salva Kiir, of the Nuer tribe, and the second being former Vice President Riek Machar, of the predominant Dinka tribe.  Both of these players are backed by loyalist and rebel forces, respectively, with a number of armed militant groups operating independently of both.

South Sudan Ethnic Distribution, courtesy of BBC

POLITICAL POWER STRUGGLE AT CORE OF CONFLICT—After Machar was removed from his position by Kiir this past July, ethnic tensions have been steadily on the rise in South Sudan.  Amidst claims that Machar was only released from service in an effort to eliminate or weaken his chances at winning the upcoming 2015 presidential elections, the additional political divisions between the two competing tribes has only further exacerbated the ongoing violence.  Since the onset of widespread conflict this past week, Machar has also reportedly called on the army to oust Kiir from office, which has created further divisions in the country.

Former VP Machar, left, and current President Kiir

19DEC13: GOVERNMENT LOSES CONTROL OF KEY CITY—Following a UN announcement on Thursday that the situation in South Sudan was relatively stable, it was reported that rebel forces loyal to Machar had seized control of Bor, the capital city of Jonglei, South Sudan’s largest state.  Preliminary damage assessments from the Red Cross in South Sudan report at least 19 civilians were killed during this exchange.  This event is significant because it demonstrates the lack of control government forces are able to exert over centers of gravity in South Sudan.  It was also reported that several government officers had defected to the rebel forces, which further identifies the struggles of maintaining control over various armed factions based on ethnic divisions.

20DEC13: UN MISSION IN JONGLEI OVERRUN—As roughly 34,000 civilians currently flock to UN bases for protection following the breakout of violence across the country, the UN reported early Friday that one of its main missions in Jonglei state was overrun, resulting in the targeting and killing of two Indian peacekeepers supporting the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).  Additional reports of other UNMISS peacekeepers being threatened by the ongoing violence emerged as well, prompting many to be evacuated and reconsolidated.  Following this announcement, the UN Security Council met Friday to determine an appropriate response and course of action that would help stabilize the country.  This event is significant because it demonstrates the highly reactionary and ill-prepared status of UN peacekeeping operations currently working to provide security in South Sudan, and indicates that additional UN resources will be necessary to provide effective security and relief in-country.

20DEC13: UGANDAN AND US FORCES DEPLOYED TO JUBA—In an effort to stabilize the decline of security in South Sudan, several foreign nations have elected to support South Sudanese government forces in securing affected regions.  The UN Security Council condemned all violence and demanded a political solution to the conflict be implemented immediately.  President Obama announced Friday that a “combat-ready force of approximately 45 US military personnel”  were being sent to South Sudan in order to protect any remaining US citizens and property.  Uganda also announced the deployment of several hundred of its soldiers, in an effort to assist its citizens in evacuating the capital.  Preliminary reports suggest that these several hundred Ugandan soldiers fall under Special Forces Command and will assist in securing the city itself.  This is significant because it highlights the inability of South Sudanese forces to effectively control the security environment, especially in high-profile regions such as the capital city and other population centers.  The rapid deployment of both US forces and Ugandan special forces also highlights the desire of third parties for a quick end to the violence.  By securing major population centers and providing order in the capital city, government forces pose less of a risk of engaging in ethnic violence with rebel forces and are more likely to adhere to more structured security efforts.

US troops from the East Africa Response Force (CJTF-HOA) depart a C-130 in Juba, courtesy of AP

20DEC13: OIL FIELDS SEIZED BY REBEL FORCES—While African and other forces seek political and military solutions to the ongoing violence, rebel forces were reported to have seized several oil fields in two oil-producing states.  Historically an “attractive target for armed opposition groups” due to their vast economic importance, the prospect of oil fields being under South Sudanese rebel control highlights a critical threat to neighboring Sudan, who is highly dependent on oil revenue and receives a majority of its oil from South Sudan.  This is significant because it presents an additional obstacle to any short-term attempts at peace between government and rebel forces, and also implicates greater economic and political challenges between South Sudan and its neighbor to the north.

South Sudan Oil Producing Areas and Pipelines, courtesy of Drilling Info International

20DEC13: POSSIBLE DIALOGUE BETWEEN KIIR AND MACHAR ANNOUNCED—In a turn of positive events, the UN reports that Kiir and Machar have possibly agreed to begin a dialogue in order to determine the most beneficial course of action for the way ahead in South Sudan.  This announcement came from President Kiir as he met with several representatives from concerned African nations on Friday in Juba.  Ministers from “Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Djibouti, and Sudan went to Juba on a mission to try to end nearly a week of strife” and held the talks with Kiir, but not with Machar.  While Machar initially agreed to these talks, the possibility exists of any terms or dialogue being rejected, which would further elongate South Sudan’s prospects at quelling the violence.  At the time of this writing, UN and other African mediators were working to contact Machar in an effort to move the talks forward.

21DEC13: US MILITARY PERSONNEL WOUNDED IN SOUTH SUDAN–While performing an evacuation mission of American citizens from the city of Bor in Jonglei state, it was reported Saturday several US CV-22 Ospreys were fired upon, wounding four US military service members in the process.  ‘”After receiving fire from the ground while approaching the [evacuation] site, the aircraft diverted to an airfield outside the country and aborted the mission,” the military’s Africa Command said in a statement.’  This event is significant because it highlights the current elevated threat levels to both ground personnel and any third party actors providing security or assisting in stabilization efforts in the country, especially in known rebel-held areas such as Bor in Jonglei state.  This is also not an isolated incident, based on reporting that a UN helicopter also came under small-arms fire in Jonglei state Saturday as well.

22DEC13: UN BEGINS EVACUATION OF SOUTH SUDAN MISSION–It was reported Sunday that the UN mission in South Sudan is relocating all “non-critical staff from the capital, Juba, to Uganda…amid escalating violence as the country’s military battles rebel forces.”  This announcement comes only a short time after the UN again had declared that the situation in Juba was relatively stable after fighting had died down earlier last week.  This announcement is significant because it demonstrates the steady but inevitable withdrawal of UN forces, influence, and presence from key terrain in South Sudan, particularly the rebel-held city of Bor in Jonglei state, as well as the capital city of Juba.  With limited manning and presence in Juba, it is likely the humanitarian situation in South Sudan will rapidly decline.  Upwards of 40,000 people have now been displaced by the violence this past week and are reported to have taken up refuge at UN bases in the country.  Given that the UN base in Jonglei state was already overrun earlier this week as reported above, the UN must determine the best course of action that will enable them to continue to protect the thousands of people seeking protection and reprieve from the violent armed groups that have stormed the country.

South Sudan Situation Map, courtesy of Relief Web through AFP