Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA)
Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM)

South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir struck a deal with former foe Riek Machar that will pave the way for their rival armed forces to merge, a cabinet minister said on 28 August 2021, in a potential breakthrough for the lumbering peace process. The announcement held out hope that the country’s fragile peace process could shake off years of drift and bickering and result in the creation of a unified armed forces command, a key component of the 2018 truce agreement. But Puok Both Baluang, Machar’s spokesman, told AFP the news was “not true,” adding that the two parties had earlier discussed a 50:50 breakup.

On 05 August 2021 South Sudan’s Vice President Riek Machar was deposed as head of his party and its armed forces, rival military leaders said, in a move that could pressure an already fragile peace process. Machar played a major role in pushing his partner, President Salva Kiir, to a peace deal in 2018 and in the subsequent formation of a unity government following years of civil war. Machar was stripped of party posts after a three-day meeting of senior leaders of his SPLM/A-IO movement who accused him of undermining reforms and giving family members strategic posts, said a statement from the party’s military wing. Machar said the squabbles were aimed at derailing the formation of a unified armed forces command.

The Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) began as a rebel force but is now the recognized military of an independent country. The Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) is the military wing of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM). In practice in the Sudan, the terms are interchangeable. The SPLA plays a central role in the government, with influence extending through all layers of a highly militarized society. The prolonged conflict between the north and South Sudan has left South Sudanese society highly militarized, fragmented and characterized by a proliferation of arms and armed groups.

The exact numbers of troops in the SPLA are a mystery wrapped in an enigma. Under the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement [CPA] Sudan and South Sudan undertook a multi-year Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration [DDR] program aimed at right-sizing their armed forces and other uniformed services. Both countries have incentives to inflate the total numbers of troops on hand, so that the number of troops remaining at the end of the process approximates the number of troops who were actually on hand to begin with. President Kiir has spoken out publicly on the need to weed out “ghost soldiers” from the SPLA - non-existent troops whose pay is stolen by officers.

In 2013 IISS placed the number at about 210,000, just shy of Mexico's 212,000,and surpassing the 200,000 of Ethiopia, Sri Lanka, and Taiwan. By 1986 the SPLA was estimated to have 12,500 adherents organized into twelve battalions and equipped with small arms and a few mortars. By 1989 the SPLA's strength had reached 20,000 to 30,000; by 1991 it was estimated at 50,000 to 60,000. In 2004 the US Library of Congress described the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) as "consisting of 20,000–30,000 men divided into four factions and located mainly in southern Sudan".

There were said to be approximately 177,000 SPLA soldiers at the time of independence. The 2008 Defense White Paper called for maintaining a 180,000-strong force. reported in 2009 that at the time of the 2005 peace accords, the South had 140,000 men under arms, with this number remaining substantially the same in the spring of 2009. As of 2009 the SPLA/M itself claimed to be stronger now than any other time in its history, with 160,000 men in garrison. Their mobility and firepower were claimed to be much higher than they ever had been, and most of these men were experienced infantry.

In 2010 the Sudan Small Arms Survey reported that "The SPLA comprises approximately 140,000 personnel, commanded from its headquarters in Juba and divided into divisions of approximately 10,000–14,000, which are made up of brigades and battalions of3,000–4,000 and 400–700 men, respectively. It comprises mostly light infantry forces... In most parts of the South, SPLA sub-units are spread thinly across large areas in order to attempt to address the issue of poor mobility.... Up to 90 per cent of the ranks are illiterate, as are at least 70 per cent of the officers... "

Phase 1 of Demobilization began in 2009 and was completed in 2011 under the UN Mission on Sudan (UNMIS) with a total of 12,525 demobilized. Phase 2 which begun in 2012, was expected to have a total caseload of 150,000, consisting of 80,000 SPLA and 70,000 organized forces (police, fire, prisons and wildlife). South Sudan has embarked on a program to transform the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), the country’s preindependence guerrilla army, into a professional, conventional force by 2017. Objective Force 2017 establishes the need for the SPLA to have a parade of 120,000, as many as 90,000 soldiers will need to be demobilized in the years to come.

                            Officers   Other
General Headquarters         	  915   1,934 
SPLA Air Force               	  196     420 
SPLA Nile Patrol               	   66     600 
Infantry Division (GHQ reserve)	1,130  12,488 
Mechanized Infantry Brigade       135   2,110 
Airborne                          294   3,354 
SPLA JIU Forces                 1,484  18,395 
(Training Units) 
NCO Infantry School                60     200 
Unified Training Center            64     400 
Institute for Strategic Studies   155     175 
Military College                   65     360 
Infantry Institute                 35     360 
Total                           4,599  40,796 
Grand Total  45,395 
In 2006 The US State Department obtained an internal South Sudan document detailing the troop strength and heavy weapons inventory of the SPLA. As long suspected, SPLA numbers were far below those previously claimed by senior SPLM officials. The new numbers should provide a more rational approach to downsizing the SPLA and designing an appropriate DDR plan. The number of armed civilians that supported the SPLA during the conflict and still consider themselves to be members of the SPLA remained a more elusive figure.

In the past, both during and after the Naivasha negotiations, various SPLA/SPLM leaders have bandied about troop figures ranging from 200,000-320,000, numbers that were always in serious doubt. The current number ) if accurate sounds more reasonable and is a good starting place for transforming the SPLA into an effective professional force large and capable enough to assure Southern Sudan's legitimate defense interests.

The large number of armed civilians who may or may not consider themselves to be soldiers in the SPLA remains problematic; however, this phenomenon is a DDR issue. The number of fighters claimed by armed groups (OAGs) and tribal militias is probably inflated as well. Claims that now-SPLA Chief of Staff Paolino Matiep brought 40,000 SSDF troops with him into the SPLA are certainly not credible. Force numbers claimed by other armed groups are equally unreliable. reported the 2009 defense budget as $190-million (over 40% of government revenues). This was slightly higher than the $170-million for the previous year. Speculative estimates put the SPLA’s defense spending at $500-million/year. By one estimatd, Sudan expends 3% of the GDP on military purposes. CIA estimated 2012 purchasing power parity GDP at $10.62 billion, which would imply military spending of about $300 milllion. According to the 2013 edition of the International Institute for Strategic Studies' report The Military Balance, South Sudan's defence budgets were 1.6bn South Sudanese pounds [US$533m equivalent] in 2011 and 2.42bn [US$ 537m equivalent] in 2012.

Though the government spends large sums of money to maintain a big army; delays in paying salaries have periodically resulted in riots by unruly soldiers. In 2006 the SPLA had been unable to pay salaries to the troops. This had a deleterious effect on security, with some SPLA troops resorting to criminal activities to support themselves. The inability of the SPLA command to determine the number and location of troops was the root cause. The 2006 SPLA budget was approximately US$80 million. UNMIS estimated that this would translate into a force structure of approximately 100,000. The restructuring the SPLA into a more efficient professional force was crucial. The longer this process took, the more difficult DDR and the maintenance of internal discipline would be.

In June 2008, the SPLA initiated an unannounced 10 percent salary reduction for all ranks. In the absence of any transparent explanation by the SPLA's senior commanders, the surprise directive has been implemented inconsistently. Some units report no impact, while others report suffering a greater than 10 percent deduction, fueling frustration within the ranks. Despite a 12 July 2008 commitment by Finance Minister Kuol Mawien to seek an extraordinary $250 million budget supplemental for the SPLA, the South's military rank and file averaged a two-month delay in salary payments as of 30 August 2008. Outlying division commanders reported to the SPLA's payroll chief in Juba that select units under them have not been paid in as many as six months. With 2008 funds already exhausted because of corruption and cost overruns, there seemed little prospect for relief in the near future. The vast bulk of the budget is devoted to salaries, and much of that (49 percent) is allocated to the SPLA.

Order of Battle 2008

1st Upper Nile State
2nd Equatorias
3rd N. Bahr el Ghazal + Warrap
4th Unity
5th Lakes
6th JIUs
7th Upper Nile
8th Bor
9th Nuba Mountains
10th Blue Nile
Prior to the death in 2005 of Dr. John Garang, GoSS president and SPLA C-in-C, the SPLA had begun to adopt a recognizable, conventional army structure, based on divisions, brigades, and battalions. The initial organization of the SPLA, based on divisions, was designed in mid-2005 but not implemented at ground level until early 2006. It was based on six divisions and four independent brigades [in Southern Blue Nile, Bor (Jonglei), the Nuba Mountains (South Kordofan) and Raja (Western Bahr el Ghazal)]. The intention in 2005–06 was to have one division or brigade per state, though operational requirements, based on perceived threats, led to a somewhat different structure. In 2007–08 the independent brigades in Blue Nile, Bor, and the Nuba Moun- tains became the 10th, 8th, and 9th divisions, respectively, and the brigade in Raja was integrated into a newly formed 5th Division. In 2010 sectors were divided as follows: 1st, 7th, and 10th divisions; 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 9thdivisions; and 2nd and 8th divisions.

By 2010 Khartoum's SAF forces were fully redeployed north of the January 1, 1956 border, but while SPLA forces are largely not redeployed South. The Joint Integrated Units (JIU) consisting of SPLA and Khartoum forces, were deployed to a number of areas in North and South Sudan as called for in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). But the JIUs were still not integrated and typically did not train together or live in the same camp. The risk of violence between the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) components of the JIUs continued. In addition, the JIUs remained under-equipped, untrained and are often perceived by local people as little more than thugs with guns rather than the nucleus of a new Sudanese army as contemplated by the CPA. Joint Integrated Units (JIU), also mandated under the CPA were additionally wound down following the independence of South Sudan, with South Sudanese personnel released from the army of Sudan.

Kiir The SPLA formalised their rank structures after 2005. Senior generals in the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) lack staffs capable of properly supporting their functions. The numbers of educated soldiers needed to act in that capacity simply do not exist, often crippling SPLA operations. One American military advisor found a senior general in the SPLA to be more concerned about his headquarters building than he was about the force structure he was commanding, the maintenance of his equipment or the training of his soldiers. It will take a generation to fully educate the new upcoming lieutenants and captains in conventional warfare. Then they will need to rise to the levels of responsibility that will allow them to replace their aging guerrilla leaders, which is essential to the SPLA's having the leadership capacity needed to run a modern conventional army.

Heavy Weapons - 2006

Main Battle Tank    51 
APC/IFV              6 
Field Guns           6 
Howitzers           36 
Mortars            468 
RR/RPG             184 
Missiles             6 
AA Guns (towed)      0 
AA Guns (SP)       262 
HM SAM               3 

Heavy Weapons - 2013

T-72 Tank          110
T-55 Tank           10
2S1 Gvozdika SPH    12
2S3 Akatsiya SPH    12
BM-21 Grad MRL      15
82mm mortars       +30  
The Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) received assistance from Kenya and Uganda; in the past, Zimbabwe and Namibia also supplied the SPLA with equipment. The government-controlled press in Khartoum repeatedly accused Kenya of aiding the Government of South Sudan procure tanks and other equipment. In 2006, a total of 100-110 T-72 medium tanks were ordered by South Sudan. The first shipment arrived in Mombasa in November 2007. Kenya was re-exporting arms delivered from Ukraine to Southern Sudan, in consultation with the USA, though it is unclear whether Ukraine was aware of this. Ukraine strongly denied these accusations in 2009, and the then president Victor Yushchenko gave personal assurances to the USA that no arms sale had been conducted with Sudan. fransfer of the tanks, in the Anerican view, dove-tailed with the goals of the United States to implement the CPA by converting the SPLA from a guerrilla force to a small conventional force capable of defending Juba (but not take Khartoum), able to integrate with a national force, and able to counterbalance the significant military capacity of Khartoum.

On 25 September 2008, Somali pirates seized the Ukrainian vessel Faina, which was transporting 33 33 T-72M1 and T-72M1K tanks with spare parts and 13,000 125mm rounds of T-72 ammunition, and 6 sets of 14.5-mm anti-aircraft gun installations, 150 sets of RPG-7V, 6 units of combat vehicles BM-21 "Grad", and explosive reactive armor kits tanks. The vessel was steering to the Kenyan port Mombasa but the cargo was aimed for South Sudan. The pirates said they wanted to levy a duty on the illegal transportation of military hardware through the Somalia territorial waters. The pirates initially demanded $20 million and cut the demand to $8 million later. On 04 February 2009, Somali pirates received a $3.2 million ransom for discharge of vessel Faina with Ukrainian crew. The Kenyan Government had arranged the arms shipment on behalf of Southern Sudan’s Government.

This is not the first time a T-72 shipment to South Sudan had been publicly diverted. In mid-February 2008, the Government of Kenya was reported as "seizing" a shipment of tanks bound for the Sudan People's Liberation Army as it violated the 2003 Comprehensive Peace Agreement to end Sudan's civil war. The "seizure" occurred when Kenya's own security situation was still precarious given the post-election crisis. The tanks were ultimately released and proceeded to South Sudan, and the cargo currently aboard the M/V Faina was meant to complete the tank sale.

The SPLA was dependent on Nairobi for the shipment of Juba's 2006 tanks purchase. Nairobi initially agreed in 2009 -- albeit in a staggered fashion and only under cover of darkness -- to ship the SPLA its second order of tanks. The SPLA was dependent on Nairobi concurrence to authorize the third and final shipment of Juba's 2006 tanks purchase. In September 2009 some 200 Kenyan military officers to train the SPLA in the use of the SPLA's estimated 100 T-72 tanks. The Kenyans were teaching "war techniques" to the SPLA, including how to fight with war planes, tanks and other heavy weapons.Air defense systems were needed to protect the civilian population of the South from bombardment in the event of renewed conflict, but any attempt to set up a saturated air system in South Sudan would be cripplingly expensive and of questionable utility.

Air Force - 2013

Beechcraft 1900  1 
Mil Mi-17        9
Mi-172           1  
Finance Minister David Deng Athorbei failed in his attempts to purchase attack helicopters for the SPLA out of Ministry of Roads and Transport monies in November 2008. In 2008 the SPLA Air Force ordered ten Mi-17 helicopters from Russian Helicopter Manufacturer, Kazan Helicopter Plant, based in Tatarstan, Russia. Of the ten helicopters, five will be outfitted with dual fuel tanks, four with single fuel tanks, and one will be used as a VIP carrier. With the order of these aircraft comes a one-year service, parts, and pilot training contract. If it is assessed that helicopter maintenance and repair personnel, as well as pilots, still require training and technical support at the end of the contracted year, an unidentified organization based in Ethiopia reportedly would provide these services for an additional year. These helicopters are to be used strictly for non-offensive purposes to include the transport of personnel and supplies.

The most immediate threat to the security of the South is internal conflict between its populations. Advanced or heavy weaponry is of no use in handling such a threat: only a well-trained, disciplined, and mobile infantry or riverine force can effectively tackle this problem, including disarmament of civilians and/or tribal militias.

The Juba Declaration of 2006 called for complete and unconditional unity between the SPLA and the South Sudan Defence Forces (SSDF), Progress regarding the integration of those groups that accepted amnesty offers, notably the South Sudan Liberation Army and the South Sudan Defence Army factions headed by Johnson Olony and Ayok Ogat, into the national security forces was slow, with discussions still ongoing in late 2013. In November 2013 South Sudanese President Salva Kiir issued a series of presidential decrees calling for former rebel fighters who have accepted the government's amnesty offer to be integrated into the army. The Geneva-based Small Arms Survey has credited Kiir’s amnesty offers with decreasing the number of insurgencies in the country, noting that five out of 18 rebel groups accepted Kiir's offer in 2012, and eight more were considering it. Up to 3,000 former rebels were expected to join the army.

The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the Government of Sudan and the SPLM/SPLA provided for a Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) with a clear time lines for DDR, integrated Armies and related institutions before the referendum set for 2011. The DDR initiative seeks to ensure that demobilized combatants are properly reintegrated into civilian life, receiving packages including livestock and vocational training. Monitoring is also a crucial component to prevent former fighters from sliding back into violence. But the National Strategic Plan, the guiding document of the DDR program, was insufficient to guide a credible program. Among other weaknesses, this strategy document did not adequately define Women Associated with Armed Forces (WAAF) and People's Defense Forces (PFD), two amorphous groups eligible for DDR, making it impossible to establish solid criteria for candidature in either group.

In March and April 2006, SPLA attempts to disarm the White Army as part of a broader Government of Southern Sudan-sponsored, CPA-mandated disarmament, demobilization and reintegration program provoked armed clashes between the parties, and 99 civilians were murdered. International observers and humanitarian agencies repeatedly called on the SPLA to abandon forcible disarmament programs, and implement a more consultative approach to integrating other armed groups.

Although the ultimate target for SPLA demobilization was 90,000 participants, the focus prior to the 2011 referendum was on the approximately 35,000 men and women identified by the SPLA as belonging to "Special Needs Groups." These include disabled and elderly soldiers and women and children non-combatants affiliated with the SPLA. Whether able-bodied female combatants are also being targeted for demobilization remained unclear. Donor funding was in hand for slightly fewer than half of the 35,000 participants. The South's DDR program cost USD 1,750 per ex-combatant, making this one of the most expensive DDR programs in Africa. Participants would only receive some of that sum in direct assistance, however, well below the average US$175 per month that an SPLA private received in his pay packet.

It was hoped that eventually as many as 180,000 former fighters from the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF), Popular Defence Forces and Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) would be demobilized under the DDR scheme. Not much happened on this front. By August 2009 the last of over 5,600 ex-combatants earmarked for demobilization in the first phase were processed. The National Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Council held its fourth meeting on 10 September 2013. On that occasion, the Government reaffirmed its commitment to rightsizing the security forces through its disarmament, demobilization and reintegration program. Meanwhile, the first of two pilot projects of the program in Mapel, Western Bahr el Ghazal, which began on 15 April 2013, concluded on 18 September with a graduation ceremony for 290 ex-combatants, short of the original target of 500.

Independence for South Sudan in July 2011 did not bring peace, either externally and or internally. The two countries are at war, in the border area of Heglig, as well as by proxy in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, and increasingly in the borderlands of South Sudan as well. Much of the world’s media coverage focused on South Sudan’s difficulties with Sudan over border and oil issues, and less attention was paid to the country’s internal struggles. It was reported that at one point South Sudan’s army, the SPLA (Sudan’s People Liberation Army), was fighting at least seven armed groups - many of whom accused the government of ignoring rural development and not fairly supporting the country’s myriad ethnic groups - in nine of its ten states.

To be sure, it is not just the SPLA versus various ethnic groups. Ethnic groups are also fighting among themselves. Interethnic warfare predated South Sudan’s independence, continued after independence was declared, and, based on the difficulties in trying to end it, appears likely to extend at least into the nation’s immediate future. Unfortunately, not only does the SPLA, which traces its origins to the guerilla movement that fought for South Sudan’s independence from Sudan, seem incapable of stopping the fighting, but its human rights abuses and partisanship - or at least perceived partisanship - are also causing many rural people to hate the government even more.

Perhaps no interethnic conflict reflects the issues surrounding the SPLA as much as the fighting between the Murle and Lon Neur. Clashes between these two groups, often in retaliation for cattle raids, have resulted in thousands dead and tens of thousands displaced. The SPLA, as the accompanying article states, has been accused of a pattern of grave violations against civilians during army operations against a Murle rebel group. There is blowback against the SPLA, as such actions have made the Murle felt increasingly persecuted by their own government and have energized Murle resistance.

The Sudanese government has alleged that South Sudan continued to support the SPLM-N and other rebel groups operating in Sudan. A dispute over oil transit fees contributed to growing tensions, which escalated when the Sudan People‘s Liberation Army (SPLA), the army of South Sudan, with support from the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), an alliance of rebel groups, occupied the Heglig oilfields in South Kordofan on 10 April 2012. After ten days of occupation and a large scale military confrontation between Sudan and South Sudan, the SPLA withdrew from Heglig. The fighting between the SAF [Sudanese Armed Forces] and SPLA [Sudan People‘s Liberation Movement] arose amid a murky mix of armed actors and interests in the contested borderlands, including a variety of northern opposition forces and proxy militias. T

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