Monday, May 27News For London

Sudan conflict explained: Why is the RSF fighting the country’s armed forces?

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Sudan’s powerful paramilitary force is clashing against the country’s army. As of now, 56 people are dead as a direct result of the military confrontation. The escalation began when the Rapid Support Forces (RSF)- the paramilitary faction of Sudan’s army began to attack important government sites, especially in the area of Khartoum.

While the Rapid Support Forces are led by their leader General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, the Sudanese armed forces are loyal to their de-facto ruler Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. Both the leaders and their respective followers are now claiming their control over major sites such as the presidential palace, Khartoum International Airport, the army chief’s residence and even the Sudan TV headquarters.

The extent of the escalation is such that the governments of countries like South Sudan and Kenya have expressed their willingness to intervene with the aim to establish peace in the region.

Who is at play?

The Rapid Support Force, which is a faction of the Sudanese army itself, was created by former president military strongman Omar Al-Bashir in 2013 and was led by Dagalo. The RSF gained infamy during the 2019 Khartoum Massacre for their repression of the pro-democratic protests. 

Rapid Support Forces leader Gen Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo. Image Credits: The Guardian

What is the political context?

The ongoing power struggle between the country’s military and the paramilitary group Rapid Support Forces (RSF) can be traced back to when RSF was first founded by Bashir with the intention to fight the rebellion in Darfur. There has been a history of disputes for a multitude of reasons, be it religious quarrels or the need for the superiority of resources. The real power struggle that led to the current conflict is traced back to 2019 to the uprising that toppled the dictatorship of Omar Hassan Al-Bashir.

A power-sharing deal was made with the civilians who supported RSF’s coup against Bashir, and this was a chance to bring a democratic government however it never happened since the army took control and came back in charge, leading to a weaker economy since people went back to isolation.

Sudanese armed forces leader Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. Image Credit: The Guardian

How did the escalations take place?

On 11th April, the Rapid Support Forces deployed their men in the region of Khartoum. The government authorities asked the RSF men to leave, but they refused to do so. This resulted in the first episode of clashes between the RSF and the Sudanese army. Eventually, the Rapid Support Forces took control of the Soba military base in southern Khartoum. On 13th April, troops of the RSF began to mobilize, which was claimed to be illegal by the country’s armed forces led by their ruler Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. Clouds of rebellion in the country had started to take place. 

On 15th April, men of the Rapid Support Forces launched alarming attacks over multiple Sudanese military bases across the country, involving the capital state of Khartoum. According to the RSF, they had captured all the major airports of the country including Merowe, El Obeid and Khartoum International Airport. Major military confrontations took place at the presidential palace of Sudan, with both sides claiming their control over it. 

As a response to these attacks, the Sudanese Air Force conducted several airstrikes on major locations where the troops of the Rapid Support Forces were in concentration. A colonel from the Sudanese Armed Forces, Khaled Abdullah, claimed that their men destroyed multiple RSF military vehicles with the help of airstrikes and artillery firing. Adding to it, he also added that the threats of RSF taking over the city of Khartoum have decreased. 

Meanwhile, an advisor from the Rapid Military Forces said that they tactically withdrew their troops from certain areas such as the Karari camp in Omdurman but maintained RSF’s claim of having control over the major areas of the Khartoum state. 

What is the current situation?

Heavy artillery firing and shelling have resumed in the state of Khartoum as of 17th April. Both the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces are facing heavy clashes against each other at the gates of the national army headquarters. Confrontations are also taking place in the capital of the North Darfur state with the RSF using heavy weapons to capture the Nyala Airport and other major buildings. 

Could this lead to a Civil War?

The current conflict is being escalated as a power struggle between RSF and the military. This fight for authority is being criticized by many as protestors are dead while they demand their basic rights like food, water, better education and healthcare services. This could be considered another coup by RSF like the one in 2019 where they worked in collaboration with the military to overthrow President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir. The central idea of this is a struggle for power as this group continues to support and initiate protests against the government.

The RSF group is justifying their recent deployments to be a part of their ‘normal duties’ while the people of Sudan suffer the damage because of the rising tensions between the army and this group as they try to prolong the process of this power struggle to gain more traction for each side. This has a high chance of leading to a civil war since the RSF Group is accused of killing people who would go against their ideology. One of the key points would also include the failure of the international community to get involved in such matters. 

Sudan has a history of avoiding critical issues, and no one is holding them accountable for such actions. This is leading to a rise in the same conflicts again and again while the RSF and military focus on gaining control of the country rather than dealing with issues like secularism and the criminal justice system.