It was considered one of the world's great successes when South Sudan became an independent nation on July 9, 2011. After many unhappy years as a region of Sudan, the new country declared its independence with crucial support from the outside world, particularly the United States.

Now, less than 2½ years later, South Sudan appears to be on the verge of a potential civil war. Since an alleged coup attempt Dec. 15 fighting between rebels and government forces has killed at least 500 people, injured four U.S. troops and left entire cities disputed.

The roots of South Sudan's conflict extend back much further than the country's 2011 independence. And, while all internal conflicts are complicated, this one is especially so. But you might say that, in the most general terms, there are three big forces driving the conflict: