The Battle of Nasir, February 1989

By Elbow Chuol 


Leaders of the SPLM/A – Nasir faction CDR Dr. Riek Machar Teny-Dhurgon (L) CDR Dr. Lam Akol Ajawin (C) and CDR Gordon Koang Chuol (R) post for a photo on August 28th 1991 (File photo)

October 1st 2018 (Nyamilepedia) – Two third of the soldiers who fought bravely in the battle for Nasir are not alive today and the few who are still breathing hardly available for investigations. It was more than 28 years ago.

The story of those who survived that fateful combat and the conspiracy behind the lost of so many people lives make it incomprehensible to grasp the instant of such a lost.

SPLM/A (Sudan People Liberation Movement/Army) lost so many of its armed forces throughout the encounter due to ignorance, poor military tactic, and elimination of individual who highly portrayed ability to be a threat to the system. They were sent to frontline mainly to meet their fate.

The story of Nasir war veterans today is largely ignored, an unconcern to SPLM/A elites. More than 27 years later, the few who survived that historic battle stay wounded forever with no one to remember their struggle.

This is how history rewarded these  aidmen and women; broken spirit, poverty, some are in exile. The survivors are shattered with no hope for the future.

This is their story. The story of the freedom fighters forgotten by their colleagues in the leadership today.

In Summary

  • Location: Nasir, Sobat, Eastern Upper Nile, South Sudan.
  • Period: 790 Days from Jan 1987- Feb 1989.
  • Campaign: Unity Campaign.
  • Commanders Involved: Cdr. Williams Nyuon of SPLA and Col. Majhun Mohamed Musa of SDF.
  • Death: More than 2,000 foot soldiers estimated dead both sides.
  • Ideology: United Sudan both sides.
  • Why Nasir?

As always has been history remembered kings and not soldiers. Written by the winners who manipulate every set of events to their own advantage. This practice remains the only pen on how the true evidences are twisted to meet the interest of those who won battles. Nothing of the past seems to be changing.


The battle to control the strategy town of Nasir by the SPLA took place from the first week of September, 6 of 1987 at 9:30 PM until the mid of February 1989, according to Alfred Agoth Alphonse Atem. Atem was Deputy commander of air defense and artillery units during Nasir operation he was under Gabriel Jok Riak, the current South Sudan Army Chief (SPLA).

Alfred was shot in the head while SPLA tried to take control of Maridi, Western Equatoria. He moved to Kenya in search of better treatment and finally made to US in 1995.

It was fought bravely by the Freedom Fighters against the regime of President Gen. Jafer Nimeri, Prime Minister Al Mahdi and Field Marshall General Bashir respectively. The memories of those cold nights remained vividly in the mind of so many veterans who partook in a fight for freedom.

The encounter took 2 years and 2 months before it’s came to its abrupt end.

Why Nasir?

Battling to controls Nasir was Dr. John Garang’s strategy to control Sudan’s Eastern Upper Nile to secure a military supply routes for his movement from the government of Ethiopia. Dr. John Garang named the campaign as Unity Campaign purposely to please the disdain and the scattered Anyanyas loyalists who joined the SPLA.

Under overall command of the operation was the Deputy Chairman and SPLA Chief of Staff, late William Nyuon Beny. He was deputized by Gordon Koang Chuol and Stephen Duol Chuol during the operation.

For Mr. Atem, “Nasir’s fight continued day and night , everyday for almost 5 months. In the final day, Dr.Garang and Salva kiir joined the operation. So the arrangements for final assault was as follows: Dr.Garang was in the command post in Ketbek with William. William had to give orders to Kiir who was directly around Nasir town behind the forces. For the first few months we went to Nasir, it almost finished our men.”

They then begun to dig Ts. They keep digging something like a canal which helped them hide inside until they reached the enemies in their trenches.

As the operation was due to an end, Gen. Aleu Ayen, former South Sudan Minister of Interior did the unthinkable. He went inside Sobat River floating with his soldiers until they reached the enemy trenches from behind.

The enemy didn’t believed SPLA would ever come from the river so they put all their strength towards the dry land except for their Commanders. This make it easy to attacked the enemy from behind and kicked them out of their trenches. Gordon Koang Chuol the appointed alternate member of SPLA Military High Command and former Anyanya leader who deputized Cdr. William Nyuon moved in and Nasir was finally captured on Friday morning at 3: 00 am , Feb 27 of 1989.

The commander on Sudan army side colonel Mahjub Mohamed Musa and his deputy Rabbah Emanuel, a south Sudanese. Both were captured alive. Rabbah is now a general in the South Sudan army. He held from Rokon in Central Equatoria.

Mahjub was killed in 1991 when Mangisto was overthrown and the SPLA left Ethiopia. On the way to Boma, the Colonel got tired and decided that he can’t walk anymore and demand to be carried by The SPLA soldiers. Commander Lual Diing got mad the rest was history.

The operation was organized in form of task forces in four battalions. Gojam, Youny, Majunon, Matt one, Matt two and a few platoons from battalions 104 and 105. At the end  only two battalions remained due to injuries and losses of the men. Each task force was over three hundred men.


The Anyanyas remained fighters who still held to their much belief of liberating South Sudan. After the death of late Samuel Gai Tut, the sheep were scattered abroad with no one to herds them. Having limited options, they joined Dr. John Garang de Mabior the long serving chairman of the SPLM/A.

It would be more than 27 years later to get the piece of this together. Dr. John Garang emerged out of abyss and gathers the scattered sheep. He had to prove he is a better shepherd and he did.

Both Garang and President Mengistus became friends. Mengistus a callous revolutionary who would kill anyone portraying capacity to threats his leadership. He is a patriot who love and have a heart to transform modern Ethiopia through socialist philosophy. The like poles immediately attracted each others.

Garang was embraced by the East as socialist who championed for the equality while in the Western hemisphere he is highly regarded as capitalist who believed in democracy.

He was a Presbyterian to American and Orthodox to Russian. At a time much embraced by the atheists. He talked of democracy to capitalist friends while sending his students to Cuba to learn socialist manifesto. Dr. Garang was a sophoscated student of Ngundeng philosophy.

Both Col. Mengistus and Garang friendship turned Western Ethiopia into a vast training and logistic field for SPLA.

President Mengistus who is now facing unstoppable rebellion from TPLF (Tigray People Liberation Front wanted to make sure the countless SPLA troops massively mobilized by Garang, fully charged with the spirit to fight for freedom are of valuable assert to his government.

He was doing everything John Garang asked him to do and that includes supplying SPLA with arms, intelligence and helping to disperse the separatists Anyanya choirs.

The splits within the SPLM in 1991, and emerging victory of EPDRF (Ethiopian People Democratic Revolutionary Front) over the government of Mengistus proved to be a one difficult thing for the ambitious Garang de Mabior. He was a one man who had a complete version of what Sudan as whole would look like.

SPLM/A under the leadership of Col. Garang de Mabior wanted a united Sudan where there is religious tolerant, economic equality and political freedom.

SPLM/A ideology remained even today a socialist version in capitalist clothes. The party is trying to fit the socialists manifesto into a vast sea of democrats minded South Sudanese. At the end SPLM/A is left with no befitting ideology to runs the country.

Feb 27 of 1989

Deng Mak a participant described Nyuon Bany as the center of gravity. “He doesn’t believe in defeat and hate to lose battle, a center of the war in Nasir.”

But Commander William Nyuon Bany sometimes lose to win. He faced defeat more than six times in Nasir and it took him more than 790 days to liberated Nasir from the enemies. He was a man of high moral caliber with a deep sense of military command. He fear nothing not even death.

Amongst his famous secretaries was Captain Dol Kai. Dol is now in Nairobi Kenya, no one seems to remember him. He is suffering from mental disorder.

Deng Mak who participated in all the encounters described how hot it was. “Commander Williams Nyuon was determined to take the town finally.” It was on Thursday evening and Dr. John Garang was fishing at Nyatoot military base, Sobat River for the soldiers who are taking the town early the next morning.

A lot of Kisra prepared by revolutionary wives from Itang refugee Camp were shipped a month before in hundreds of sacks to the Nyatot military outpost. It was made to dry to make it look like a biscuit. The soldiers were to chew it in the lines as they wait for the order to fires their guns.

In a cold morning hours, Deng Mak and his many comrades stood in line waiting for whistle to be blow to meet their fates. This one, this last and final battle was to be fought with no surrender and retreats and those seem to be a set back where secretly eliminated weeks before.

“We went into the line. Believing in ourselves, in our leaders and trusting one another. We all knew one thing for sure. This is our last day, our last battle to liberate Nasir.” Deng who emotionally remembered told me.

Shot in his left hand, some of his finger remained default to function. He was personally there from the start to the end. More than 2000 foot soldiers estimated dead during the entire encounter.

You can reach Elbow Chuol via elbow.chuolyier@gmail.com

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