Back in Mukwar's hut the general said, "I want to show you something." One of his men brought in a video camera. After the battle for Deldoko, he explained, his soldiers found a videocassette in an abandoned truck. The footage on it had been shot by a Sudanese soldier as he and his comrades advanced on Deldoko.
Mukwar pressed play. As the video begins, Sudanese soldiers are haphazardly firing their carbines and rocket-propelled grenades into a haze. They're in no recognizable formation. The cameraman moves around, while the men jump into the frame, like fans at a college basketball game. They hold up their index fingers and triumphantly repeat "Allahu Akbar!" over and over again. The cameraman says it back to them: "Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar!"
Each time, Mukwar let out another peel of laughter and mimicked them. I asked whom they're shooting at. "No one!" he said. "We're not even there at this point. They're shooting at the bush!"
In the video, a soldier walks into the frame and says in Arabic, "I want to greet the camera before I die."
"Ok, if that's what you want!" Mukwar said back to the screen.
"They are morons," the colonel who took the shrapnel wound, watching with us, said.
Mukwar pressed fast-forward and let the tape roll a bit. "Now listen to the sounds of the bullets," he instructed. Suddenly the nature of the firing changes. Rounds can be heard whistling past the camera. It's the counterattack. The video becomes shaky. The cameraman drops the camera to his side and begins running. Then the footage goes black. When it comes back on again, there is no more preening, just men running around in disarray. "Allahuakbar, allahuakbar," the cameraman chants to himself, as he whirls about, except now it sounds as though he's crying. The camera comes upon a dead soldier, shot, presumably, by one of Mukwar's troops. Men have gathered around him. One says a prayer and then shuts the dead man's eyelids.
"You see that? He died!" Mukwar said, beside himself with laughter. "They closed his eyes because he's finished!"
"They're very stupid," the colonel, who is not laughing, said.
A few weeks after I left Mukwar and the colonel, Sudan launched a counterattack near Deldoko and retook some of the land the SPLA-N had seized in December. Sudan claims that it killed 50 rebel troops. The SPLA-N claims only a few died. Both are probably lying.
Meanwhile, African Union leaders, including Bashir and South Sudan's President Salva Kiir, have been meeting in Addis Ababa at the U.N. Security Council's behest. Bashir had planned to travel to Juba to negotiate with Kiir personally, until talks broke down last week. He was expected to push a plan to partition South Kordofan into two states. At the same time, Bashir's influence in Khartoum continues to wane. In November, the city went into lockdown after a reported coup attempt by senior military officials. Before that, Bashir imprisoned his intelligence chief, after he allegedly expressed his desire to take over the presidency. Last year saw a series of demonstrations, followed by bloody crackdowns by the state.
"The problem isn't in Nuba," Mukwar told me. "The problem is in Sudan. Now even the students in the university are protesting. And Bashir is beating them, killing them, torturing them," he said, pausing to set up the joke. "And the students aren't even Nuban!"
"There's always war in Sudan," Mukwar said, serious again. "There's something wrong in this regime."
I asked how much longer his forces could go on. "This is war. I can't determine that," Mukwar replied. "If there's a change of regime in Khartoum and a peace agreement, maybe then we can stop. Maybe then."