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Who is the man leading the Sudanese army against the RSF?

During a vulnerable period of transition, Al-Burhan rose to the position of the nation's most powerful leader, which enabled him to gradually tighten his hold on Sudan.

April 20, 2023 at 12:51 pm

Sudan is in turmoil. Clashes erupted across the country on 15 April as the Rapid Response Forces (RSF), a powerful Sudanese paramilitary organisation, and the Sudanese army exchanged heavy fire in an attempt to capture key government buildings and establish military dominance.

The army is led by General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, who has been the de facto president of Sudan in recent years.

Little is known about the general prior to his rise to prominence in 2019. Born in 1960, Al-Burhan was stationed in Khartoum early in his military career. He participated in the Darfur conflict in 2003 and the Sudanese civil war in 1983 but escaped any human rights accusations against military figures in the Sudanese army at the time.

In 2018, he was promoted to chief of staff of the Sudanese army after completing further military training in Jordan and Egypt.

The following year, a popular uprising which swept across the country led to the ouster of long-term President Omar Al-Bashir from power, ending his 26-year rule. A transitional Military Council (TMC) was then established, and Al-Bashir’s Defence Minister Awad Mohamed Ahmed Ibn Auf replaced him as leader. But a new wave of protests led to the resignation of Ibn Auf and the rise of Al-Burhan as head of the TMC.

Al-Burhan became the most powerful leader in the country during a fragile transitional period, which helped him progressively tighten his grip on Sudan.

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After months of international pressure and popular protests, the TMC was replaced by the Sovereign Council, a civilian-military partnership created to steer the country towards elections and a civilian-led government. The SC was also headed by Al-Burhan making him the de facto head of the state.

During this time, Al-Burhan forged closer ties between Sudan with the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, states which had supported the removal of Al-Bashir. He also met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and joined a number of Arab countries in normalising ties with Israel. He played a key role in negotiating a peace agreement with rebel groups in 2020, bringing an end to decades of instability and fighting.

In October 2021, following tensions between the military and civilian factions in the government, Al-Burhan – along with his second-in-command and current rival RSF leader Hemedti – seized total power in a coup, before reversing his decision and reinstating the civilian-led transitional government.

Al-Burhan’s engagement in a fight with RSF leader Hemedti comes amidst a political transition to civilian rule in the country and a power struggle within the military.

While Al-Burhan has stated the army will return to its barracks and stay out of politics, it remains unclear whether the country’s transition to democracy will be successful.

What is certain, however, is a victory by Al-Burhan over his rival Hemedti would absorb the RSF into the ranks of the military under his command, leaving him in charge of all armed forces in the country and more powerful than ever before.