What are the paths of confrontation between the Sudanese army and the Rapid Support in Sudan? – The Arab Wall
What are the paths of confrontation between the Sudanese army and the Rapid Support in Sudan?

What are the paths of confrontation between the Sudanese army and the Rapid Support in Sudan?

On March 10, 2024, the Arab World Center for Advanced Research and Studies in Cairo organized a listening session entitled “The Edge of the Abyss: What are the possible paths of confrontation between the Sudanese army and the Rapid Support in Sudan?” The Center hosted Major General Amin Ismail Majzoub, Director of the National Studies Department at the Higher Academy for Strategic and Security Studies (as a keynote speaker in the session). A number of experts and researchers specializing in various fields also participated in the session, namely: Mohamed Ezz Al-Arab, Mohamed Abbas Naji, and Karam Saeed, Amr Abdel Atty, Hussein Maaloum, Mohamed Omar, Ali Atef, Mervat Zakaria, Nadine Al Mahdi, and Nahla Abdel Moneim.

Parties to the conflict

During the session, Amin Majzoub touched on the subject of the warring parties in Sudan in light of the continuing conflict since April 2023 between the Sudanese army and the Rapid Support Forces:

1- The Sudanese Army: IThe primary actor in the ongoing conflict is widely regarded as having facilitated the establishment and expansion of the Rapid Support Forces since the tenure of former President Omar al-Bashir, notably enhancing its influence in 2003 during the Darfur crisis. Despite initial expectations of a harmonious relationship between the military and the Rapid Support Forces following the December 2018 revolution and the ousting of Al-Bashir, a significant rift emerged when the Rapid Support Forces rebelled against the military in April 2023. In recent years, the Rapid Support Forces have significantly consolidated their presence within the capital city of Khartoum and key institutions, thereby streamlining their rebellion efforts and enabling the capture of numerous territories, institutions, government edifices, and military installations, including the strategically important Merowe Air Base.

2- The Rapid Support Forces: They are recognized as a significant actor in the ongoing conflict, having emerged during the tenure of former President Al-Bashir. They have notably enhanced their military capabilities and refined combat strategies, particularly emphasizing agility and adaptability. Subsequently, they were assigned both political and military responsibilities within various institutions and the armed forces, with their members being bestowed with elevated military ranks. Notably, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo “Hemedti,” the Commander of the Rapid Support Forces, rose to the rank of Lieutenant General. However, the hasty bestowal of military ranks resulted in a crisis within the state. The Rapid Support Forces have garnered external support through their involvement as mercenaries in Libya since 2011, as well as through the cultivation of ties with individual Arab Gulf states. Additionally, they participated in the Yemen conflict as part of Operation Decisive Storm in 2015. Following the December 2018 revolution, the Rapid Support Forces were called back to Sudan by Al-Bashir to suppress the uprising, but they ultimately switched sides, aligning themselves against him. Subsequently, the Rapid Support Forces assumed a significant role, particularly due to the close personal relationship between the Sudanese army commander, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and Hemedti dating back to the Bashir era, and their collaboration in the Jebel Amer region and other areas.

3- Armed movements: They are recognized as key players in the continuing conflict in Sudan, emerging prominently following the revolution against Al-Bashir. Initially motivated by financial gain as mercenaries, they grew apprehensive of the ascension of the Rapid Support Forces. Subsequently, they leveraged the conflict between the Rapid Support Forces and the military to align themselves with the latter due to past hostilities with the former during the Al-Bashir era and concerns regarding its potential dominance over the government.

4- Mercenaries from neighboring countries: This group is motivated by financial gain and has garnered significant backing from neighboring nations of Sudan in its conflict against the military, particularly from Mali, Chad, Niger, and Burkina Faso. These nations exploited the situation in Sudan to involve these mercenaries, notably of Arab descent, in the Sudanese conflict to eliminate their presence and disruption.

The Root Causes of the Conflict

Majzoub highlighted the root causes of the crisis in Sudan that has led to open conflict between the Sudanese army and the Rapid Support forces:

1- The events of December 2018: The December 2018 revolution, initiated by protests against Al-Bashir, resulted in the deployment of the Rapid Support Forces to Khartoum and other major cities following his isolation from urban centers. This deployment facilitated his influence in the capital, culminating in his pivotal role within the new regime, his association with Al-Burhan, and his appointment as the Deputy President of the Sovereignty Council. Subsequently, he fostered a network of international relations with regional countries, including establishing ties with Israel, leveraging the normalization efforts undertaken by Al-Burhan.

2- Exploiting the transitional period: The Rapid Support Forces exploited the transitional period following the revolution to consolidate its presence, establish political legitimacy, and bolster its military capacities. Subsequently, it collaborated with the military in orchestrating the October 25, 2021 coup against the civilian leadership, resulting in the ousting of Abdullah Hamdok’s government. This action precipitated a sequence of ongoing crises that served to reinforce the Rapid Support’s influence, culminating notably in the political framework agreement of December 2022 delineating a transitional phase, the implementation of reforms within the armed forces, and the progressive integration of the Rapid Support Forces into the military structure. Hemedti wanted to implement the integration process over a period of 20 years, which effectively means He refused to integrate and strengthen his strength, while the army wanted the integration to take place within only two years, while the United Nations proposed a period of five years as an appropriate period, and from here the dispute began between the army and the Rapid Support Forces.

Conflicting Aspirations

Majzoub emphasized that the power struggle following the December Revolution resulted in disputes among the involved factions, each vying for dominance, consequently giving rise to multiple initiatives, notably:

1- The Burhan and Islamic forces project: They wanted to monopolize power and exploit the transitional period for the return of the previous regime.

2- The Civil Movement Project: Wanted to control power by exploiting the rapid support forces and attracting it to its side, which led to the April 2023 rebellion. It was planned that Hamdok would again head the government with Hemedti assuming the presidency of the state.

3- Hemedti’s personal project: Hemedti recognized his influence within the Sudanese political landscape and the significance he held for various factions, leading him to establish an independent initiative aimed at consolidating power.
The clash among the three projects culminated in the April 2023 war, complicating the attribution of the initial act of aggression due to the involvement of all parties in the conflict through their respective projects.

Current Situation

Given the current situation on On the ground, in light of the continuing war between the Rapid Support Forces and the Army, the most prevalent issues are the following:

1- External interference: Interventions in Sudan’s ongoing crisis have been observed since the commencement of the conflict and even preceding it, delineated into two categories: Firstly, benign interventions orchestrated by select nations and regional entities aimed at resolving the conflict, including Egypt, the Jeddah Platform, the Manama Meeting, the Conference of Sudan’s Neighboring Countries in Cairo, and the African Union. Secondly, non-benign interventions conducted by various international actors and neighboring states of Sudan, such as Ethiopia, Chad, Niger, Mali, Kenya, and Uganda. These entities maintain connections with Hemedti, either by supplying mercenaries or acquiring gold illicitly trafficked out of Sudan by the Rapid Support Forces, amounting to an estimated annual value of approximately 20-30 billion dollars.

2- The military situation: The Rapid Support Forces exert significant authority in Darfur, with exceptions in El Fasher and approximately 40% of Khartoum, alongside Kordofan. Efforts are underway to extend influence northwards to manage Sudan’s border points with neighboring nations and to gain access to Port Sudan for maritime connectivity, leveraging the force’s agility and rapid deployment capabilities. While making advancements, full control is not consistently established, resulting in partial presence without firm governance, unlike the military’s comprehensive control in other parts of Sudan, where the military holds a favorable position.
The Rapid Support Forces seek to capitalize on ceasefires to broaden their territorial dominance and operational reach. Despite 14 previous ceasefire agreements, compliance has been lacking from the Rapid Support Forces, prompting the army to refrain from adhering to the Security Council’s directive to cease hostilities during Ramadan. Confronted with setbacks in various regions, the Rapid Support Forces have resorted to implementing a scorched earth policy.

3- The humanitarian situation: The humanitarian situation in Sudan has reached a critical juncture with state institutions, hospitals, and schools ceasing operations. Agricultural productivity, encompassing both winter and summer crops, has significantly declined over the past two years, particularly in Gezira State. This decline is anticipated to result in a substantial food shortage in 2024 and 2025, potentially leading to famine, marking an unparalleled humanitarian crisis.
Efforts to avert the escalation of this crisis have led to an agreement to facilitate the delivery of food assistance via the Arqin crossing with Egypt and the port of Port Sudan. However, the Rapid Support Forces are advocating for alternative corridors, notably through Chad, with the primary objective of acquiring weaponry. Furthermore, there is a steadfast refusal to adhere to the terms of the May 2023 agreement with the military regarding the evacuation of cities, civilian residences, and government facilities, impeding the distribution of aid. The Security Council’s resolution advocating for a ceasefire during Ramadan and supporting aid delivery has proven ineffective in this context.

Future scenarios

Major General Dr. Majzoub touched on several scenarios regarding the course of the current war between the Sudanese army and the Rapid Support:

1- Victory of one of the parties: If the Sudanese army prevails over the RSF, there is a potential for Darfur to pursue secession from Sudan due to its role as the cradle of the RSF, rendering complete victory and eradication unattainable. Conversely, a scenario where the army is defeated by the RSF could plunge Sudan into a civil conflict.

2- The potential for the conflict to continue between the two parties: If such an event transpires, the conflict is likely to endure extensively between the involved factions, resulting in the destabilization of Sudan and the onset of significant crises, constituting an unfavorable scenario.

3- Ending the conflict through negotiation: This scenario is deemed acceptable, allowing for negotiations between the involved parties to potentially culminate in an agreement akin to the “Taif Agreement” as seen in the Lebanese context. The Rapid Support forces are expected to remain stationed in Darfur during the transitional period, after which they are to be assimilated into the military ranks prior to the conduction of elections. Excluding the Rapid Support from the political process without integration into the armed forces presents challenges, thus necessitating their inclusion in the overall equation.

4- International intervention and the imposition of guardianship in Sudan: This potential scenario poses a significant risk to Sudan and the neighboring countries in the region.

The Future of Negotiations

Despite a year having passed since the conflict between the Rapid Support and the army, multiple negotiations transpired between the two factions. These negotiations include the “Jeddah Platform” initiated in May 2023 and subsequent rounds that culminated in a suspension of negotiations in August 2023. Initially, the participants of the Jeddah Platform reached a consensus on a ceasefire and the withdrawal of the Rapid Support from various locations such as civilian residences, governmental establishments, army installations, and military bases. However, the Rapid Support failed to comply with these terms. Subsequently, following the breakdown of the Jeddah Platform discussions, a meeting in Manama was convened between the conflicting parties to deliberate on power-sharing arrangements and the exclusion of civilians from the political landscape. Regrettably, the confidentiality of the agreement was breached, leading to the failure of this round of negotiations. Presently, civilians have reemerged as significant stakeholders in the ongoing discussions, participating in various external dialogues held in countries such as Ethiopia, Egypt, and others, where they engage with representatives from regional and international entities.
Thus, the efficacy of future negotiations appears contingent upon the presence of robust mediators, given the inefficacy of the “Jeddah Platform” spearheaded by the US and Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia’s inability to exert dominance over the warring factions, coupled with the United States’ lack of inclination towards a resolution, underscores the current impasse. The conflict aims to debilitate Sudan through prolonged strife, yet Egypt, in collaboration with key stakeholders such as Turkey, holds the potential to reach a resolution. Egypt possesses significant leverage, evident in Al-Burhan’s two visits to the country since the conflict’s inception, with the latest occurring in late February 2024, followed by a delegation led by civilian Taqadum. Notably, under the guidance of former Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdok on March 7, 2024, discussions unfolded regarding Egypt’s proposition to facilitate a direct dialogue between Al-Burhan and Hemedti, signaling a pathway towards ending the war.