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Who is fighting in Sudan?

By Reuters

Here are some facts about Sudan’s army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary group which have been fighting each other for a year, devastating their country, reigniting ethnically-targeted killings in the Darfur region, and displacing millions of people.

Reuters photo

The army and RSF were uneasy partners in the toppling of President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir in 2019 and the overthrow of a civilian-led government in 2021. However, they clashed as they competed to protect their interests in a planned political transition.

Sudan’s armed forces are commanded by General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan. They had the advantage on paper at the start of the war because of their higher troop numbers, heavy weapons and air force.

As an institution, the armed forces have been at or close to the centre of power in Sudan for decades. Burhan was born around 1960 in a village north of Khartoum and has spent his whole career at the centre of the institution.

However, the armed forces have often outsourced fighting to allied groups in various regions of Sudan — including the militias that developed into the RSF in Darfur — while building up extensive economic interests.

Under Bashir, Burhan served in Darfur, where the government fought to put down a rebellion that had displaced an estimated two million people and left 300,000 dead by 2008. He also developed ties in the Gulf, helping supply soldiers to a Saudi-led military coalition fighting in Yemen since 2015.

In the first days of the war, the army lost ground to the RSF’s more mobile units across the capital, and then later in Darfur and Al-Gezira state south of Khartoum. Earlier this year, it regained some footing, particularly in Omdurman, across the Nile from Khartoum, supported, sources say, by Iranian-made drones. It has also received support from foreign powers, including neighbouring Egypt, and largely holds north and eastern Sudan including Port Sudan on the Red Sea.

Citizens have accused the army of killing civilians in indiscriminate shelling and air strikes in parts of Khartoum and other areas held by the RSF. The army has largely denied the accusations.

According to Muhammad Saad, a former assistant, he first took up arms after a group of men attacked his trade convoy, killed about 60 people from his extended family and stole his livestock.

His fighting skills were honed when his loyalists and other irregulars allied with the government to help quash the rebellion in Darfur in a campaign that escalated in 2003. The militia forces became known as the Janjaweed, a term loosely derived from the Arabic for “devils on horseback” that reflected their fearsome reputation. International Criminal Court prosecutors accused government officials and Janjaweed leaders — without naming Hemedti — of genocide and other atrocities.

Over time the RSF grew and in 2017 won official recognition as a military force, with Bashir’s support. In tandem, Hemedti’s business interests of have expanded in gold mining, infrastructure, livestock and other areas.

His forces have proved to be wily adversaries to the army, capturing some of its bases and melting away into residential areas where heavy armour and conventional military tactics lose their usual advantage.

Sudanese citizens, rights groups and UN experts have accused the RSF and allied militias of perpetrating ethnically-targeted attacks in Darfur, accusations denied by the RSF.

Hemedti’s most important ally has been the UAE, say Sudanese sources, analysts and diplomats. The UAE has denied reports that it has sent arms shipments to the RSF.

Source: Reuters

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