South Sudan, however, ignited this round of escalation by occupying Sudan's Heglig oil field on April 10. South Sudan claims a 1956 map placed Heglig in its territory. The southern attack looked like political retribution for the north's Abyei assault, which sent 100,000 refugees fleeing south. The south held Heglig until April 20, which, given the north's edge in military power, impressed many military analysts. South Sudan has no jet aircraft. Its army remains basically a guerrilla force short of tanks and artillery. Sudan possesses jet aircraft, operational tanks, 800 artillery pieces and 600 rocket launchers.
Khartoum may gamble that war now, to seize southern oil fields, is its best option. South Sudan is slipping the north's stranglehold on oil exports. Kenya and militarily powerful Ethiopia (both U.S. allies) have agreed to help the south build a pipeline to Kenya's seaport of Lamu. This means, however, that Kenya and Ethiopia have an interest in South Sudan's survival and control of its oil fields, so war now by Khartoum risks a wider war. Uganda has already suggested it might intervene if the north takes southern territory. Uganda bears a grudge against Bashir and Khartoum. It contends that the murderous Ugandan rebel Lords Resistance Army (LRA) was created by Sudanese intelligence.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
Be the first to read Austin Bay's column. Sign up today and receive Townhall.com delivered each morning to your inbox.