SUDAN OCCUPIES A STRATEGICALLY SENSITIVE AREA of the African
continent, and the nation's military establishment, developed
during the period of British colonial administration, has remained
influential in independent Sudan. Problems of domestic origin
have, however, been the paramount sources of national security
Sudan has experienced civil war during three-quarters of its
existence as an independent nation. Historical divisions between
the Arab-dominated north and the predominantly Black African,
non-Muslim south spawned civil strife that was settled only in
1972, after about seventeen years. Open conflict broke out again
in 1983 after President Jafaar an Nimeiri abrogated the peace
accord by abolishing the Southern Regional Assembly, redividing
the south into three regions, and imposing the sharia, or Islamic
law, on the entire country. Since that time, the southern rebel
forces, known as the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA),
have gradually expanded the fighting, leaving the government forces
in control of only a few key garrison towns of the south. Essentially
a revolt among the Dinka and Nuer peoples, the largest groups
in the south, the conflict has spread beyond the southern region
to southern Darfur, southern Kurdufan, and southern Al Awsat states.
The struggle has been complicated by the government policy of
arming militias in communities opposed to the SPLA. As a result,
local intercommunal conflicts have been exacerbated, and the civilian
population has been victimized by violence and atrocities. Millions
have been forced to flee their homes in the south to escape the
fighting and avert starvation.
In spite of the pressures it faced in the south, the Sudanese
military constituted the most stable institution in a nation beset
by upheaval and economic crisis. Initially having a reputation
for nonpartisanship, the armed forces were generally accepted
as the guardians of the state when confidence in elected leaders
faltered. Nimeiri, who came to power in a military coup d'état
in 1969, was himself deposed by a group of officers in 1985. After
a three-year period of civilian parliamentary government from
1986 to 1989, a group of middle-ranking officers again intervened
to impose military rule. Aligned with the National Islamic Front
(NIF), an Islamist (Muslim activist, also seen as fundamentalist)
party, the new military clique purged the armed forces of potential
dissenters, arrested suspected opponents, and introduced harsh
internal security controls. A politico-military militia, the Popular
Defence Forces (PDF), was organized as an urban security force
dedicated to the goals of the Islamist movement.
Its economy in a crippled condition, Sudan has been almost entirely
dependent on help from other countries to equip its armed forces.
After severing military ties with the Soviet Union in 1977, Sudan
turned to Egypt, China, the West European countries, and the United
States for arms. In most cases, these purchases were financed
by Saudi Arabia and other moderate Arab states. The reluctance
of Western nations to supply weapons and munitions that could
be used to support military operations in the south and the new
military leaders' alienation from other Middle Eastern countries
have made it increasingly difficult to procure arms and matériel.
The Sudanese armed forces, numbering about 71,000 in the early
1990s, were responsible for both internal and external security.
Most troops were deployed to defend against SPLA attacks and contain
the southern insurgency. Their effectiveness was impaired by poor
morale and shortages of functioning weapons and essential supplies.
Most of the armored vehicles, artillery, and aircraft from the
Soviet Union were more than twenty years old and no longer serviceable
as a result of lack of maintenance and spare parts.
In addition to the questionable effectiveness of its armed forces,
Sudan faced other security problems. Sudan had on its borders
two states equipped with Soviet arms: Ethiopia on the east and
Libya on the northwest. Although each of these states constituted
a potential threat, it was the seemingly unwinnable war in the
south and the growing unpopularity of a military leadership fueled
by strong Islamism that were the dominant national security issues.
Data as of June 1991