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Why the Attack Failed

What went wrong with the attack is the subject of some dispute. One reason many people pointed to was that the Kerubino and SPLA forces stopped the offensive before they captured all garrisons, to loot and pillage.

One theory is that the government knew well that these forces were undisciplined and would be distracted by the opportunity to loot, and therefore the government forces were under orders not to attempt to remove attractive items as they withdrew. An SPLA spokesperson who admitted the looting by SPLA and Kerubino forces said that the soldiers panicked when they saw Dinka civilians running out of Wau.37 A more generous civilian said, "They lacked discipline because they were in quarters too long."38

The distraction of the rebel forces gave the government forces a chance to regroup and use its artillery at Girinti. Aside from the looting, the lack of SPLA artillery to match the government's big guns at Girinti was cited as a reason for the defeat in Wau. SPLA artillery was on the way from Yei, according to one SPLA source, but Kerubino acted precipitously, wanting all the glory for a victory in Wau. The SPLA plan was to attack Wau before army reinforcements arrived by train, and the train was still delayed in Akwei north of Wau when Kerubino struck.39

Some close to the SPLA claimed that Kerubino, who had been fighting against the SPLA since joining with Riek in 1993, was not fully trusted with SPLA artillery, and the SPLA deliberately did not move its artillery to Wau, intending to undercut his victory. The discovery by government military intelligence of the Trojan Horse plan required moving up the attack date, Kerubino=s supporters would argue.

According also to SPLA sources and some Wau residents, due to the haste of the attack, coordination with the Dinka police and game wardens in Wau and with the sympathetic sectors of the Fertit militia was not good. The Dinka uniformed services were to join in the attack, but they did not receive timely orders. The police in the end defended their headquarters, their families and the governor's house, and provided a shield for the escaping civilians, before they, too, fled Wau. Among the high-ranking Dinka police who reportedly fled were Colonel Peter Lual and Lieutenant Colonel Wol Lang.40

It appears that Kerubino did not have time to notify his forces in Khartoum of his planned defection. In February 1998 media reports referred to an Aincident@ with forces in Khartoum loyal to Kerubino,41 following which Riek Machar ordered all southern militia factions in Khartoum to hand over their arms to prevent disturbances. The arms were to be held by Riek and other leaders of his political umbrella group, the UDSF.42As discussed further below, all pro-government southern militias in Khartoum, including Riek=s, were finally disarmed without notice by their army allies in November 1998.

37 Human Rights Watch interview, Sudan, May 17, 1998.

38 Human Rights Watch interview, Wunrok, Bahr El Ghazal, May 8, 1998.

39 Human Rights Watch interview, Sudan, May 17, 1998.

40 Human Rights Watch interview, Lokichokkio, May 11, 1998.

41 "Sudan=s Former Rebels Told to Hand Over Arms,@ Reuters, Khartoum, February 18, 1998.

42 Alfred Taban, APro-government factions clash in Sudan,@ Reuters, Khartoum, July 7, 1998.

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