A wave of smoke in Khartoum, Sudan, Saturday, April 15, 2023. Clashes broke out between the Sudanese army and a powerful paramilitary corps in the capital and other parts of the African nation. (AP Photo/Marwan Ali)

Sudan is on the brink of civil war after a paramilitary group known as the Rapid Support Forces – FAR (RSF) say they have taken control of the presidential palace and two international airports, including one in the capital Khartoum. Sudanese military leaders have dismissed the allegations and both sides blamed each other for starting the battles, in which warplanes launched airstrikes on the capital.

The violence follows years of escalating tensions between the FAR and the Sudanese army, led by the president, Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhanas the country struggles to transition to a civilian-led government.

Here’s what you need to know about the paramilitary force confronting the Sudanese Armed Forces.

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The ace The Rapid Support Forces emerged from the Janjawid militia, accused of having committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfurwestern region of Sudan. According to human rights groups, the Rapid Support Forces raped, looted and burned villages in the early 2000s. He also helped Omar al-Bashir – who the International Criminal Court is indicting for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide – put down a rebellion during his presidency.

At the time, the Sudanese army had a strong air force and heavy weaponry, but lacked the mobility to fight effectively in the rural and arid areas of Darfur. Using horses, camels and 4×4 trucks with mounted guns, the Janjaweed – and later the FAR – attacked the rebels and civilian villages.

“They helped turn the tide of the war in favor of the Bashir government,” said Cameron Hudson, an expert in African peace and security at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

By the 2010s, the militia had transformed into a more formal rapid response unit, known as the Rapid Support Forces. Bashir rewarded the unit financially and its commanders became wealthy and powerful. He began deploying the group beyond Darfur to respond to tribal violence along Sudan’s borders.

“They were imposing the will of Khartoum on these rural areas,” Hudson said, adding that Sudan’s traditional military elite viewed the FAR as uneducated shepherds.

In 2019, civil protests ousted Bashir from power. Two years later, the army and the FAR staged a coup before handing over power to a civilian-led government under international pressure at the end of 2022. But that deal appears to have failed, paving the way Saturday’s clashes.

Sudan’s formal army, which includes an air force, has a big advantage over the FAR and is better placed to defend fixed positions, experts say. Because the FAR has traditionally fought in rural areas, its members are not well trained to fight in more urban cities like Khartoum.

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Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, universally known as Hemedti.
Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, universally known as Hemedti.

He The FAR is led by Vice President Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, universally known as Hemedti.

According to analysts, the group has around 100,000 members. Over the past two years, Hemedti has led a rapid recruitment drive that has helped swell the ranks of the FAR. His troops come largely from western Sudan, near Darfur, and areas long abandoned by the government, including eastern areas near the Red Sea and along the border with South Sudan, according to the experts.

Prior to its rapid expansion, a 2019 Congressional Research Service report claimed that the FAR had as many as 50,000 soldiers, including child soldiers.

The leader of the group, Hemedti, has humble origins as a camel herder for a minority tribe in Darfur and was once a rebel. Over time, he changed sides and transformed the FAR into a powerful group of mercenaries. As he grew in influence and wealth in Sudan, Hemedti also expanded his regional reach, deploying troops to Yemen on behalf of Saudi Arabia and to Libya on behalf of the United Arab Emirates.

According to Hudson, Hemedti also did business with the Wagner Group, a group of Russian mercenaries, in gold mining and in security operations in the gold-bearing regions of Sudan.

Hemedti tried to present himself as a good man who defends the “marginalized areas” of Sudan, according to Hudson.

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The group and its leader continue to seek political and regional legitimacy and have reportedly built a fleet of armored vehicles and bought dronesaccording to Mohamed Osman, who investigates Sudan for Human Rights Watch.

“It’s a historic evolution from a militant force to this strong, independent military force that you see right now,” Osman said.

Hemedti’s main goal is to survive, Hudson said, and to be given a constitutional role in the country. He hired public relations firms in Canada and the UK to try to improve his image – and the image of the FAR – in Sudan and around the world.

The group has also tried to retain the most marginalized areas outside the cities by providing them with food. But since Hemedti and others became rich and powerful by plundering some of those same villages, that strategy is unlikely to work, according to Hudson.

(c) 2023, The Washington Post

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