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Why won’t the war in Sudan end?

November 23, 2023 at 1:39 pm

Smoke rises as clashes continue between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), in Khartoum, Sudan on May 5, 2023 [Ahmed Satti/Anadolu Agency]

300 days after the outbreak of battles in Sudan between the Rapid Support Forces and the Sudanese state army, stopping the war is still far from the imagination. There are traditional reasons for this, including the insistence of both parties of the crisis to resolve the situation militarily and refusing to offer any valuable concessions. The very important factor is the complexity of the situation on the ground and the balance of power being closer to the balance between the two forces.

However, reading between the lines is clearer and deeper than these apparent features, as military balance means a closeness in forces and capabilities, similarity of weapons systems in quality and quantity, in addition to combat efficiency and numbers of available manpower. This has not happened, as the Sudanese army is superior in all of these elements. It has an air force armed with fighter planes and bombers, while the Rapid Support Forces do not have an air force, but they excel on the ground by controlling approximately 70 per cent of Khartoum and the surrounding areas, most of which are residential areas, not open battlefields. Therefore, air force superiority is not a decisive element or a major advantage in the violent battles centred in and around the capital.

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Under normal circumstances of a war between a regular army and a rebel militia, a few days of pursuit and guerrilla warfare in the streets of Khartoum are enough for the (Sudanese) army to be able to completely destroy the rebels. However, this has not happened in Sudan for over eight months, during which the battles between the two sides have not stopped. This is because the supposedly weaker party in the equation (the Rapid Support Forces) receives direct and intensive aid and support, both military and political. Hamdan Dagalo’s (Hemedti) forces obtained advanced weapons, and even developed their capabilities based on the development of battles in a way that balances the capabilities of the regular Sudanese army. For example, after the outbreak of the crisis and the outbreak of battles, it obtained anti-aircraft guns and air defence radars, which it had not possessed before. Furthermore, the communications, control and guidance systems that these forces use to coordinate their movements and transmit orders and instructions vertically and horizontally, with advanced technology and special modifications and features, are available only to a few countries, some of which are in the Middle East.

Another reason to question the continuation of the war is the unique ability of the Rapid Support Forces to compensate for losses in personnel and equipment and to obtain new quantities of weapons in the ongoing combat operations, the fronts of which change from time to time. It is as if there were open channels or corridors through which weapons, and even fighters, flow non-stop. The necessary question to understand the full picture must address the failure to impose an air and sea embargo on any irregular military shipments heading to Sudan or, at least, monitoring airports, seaports and land crossings.

From the first moment the crisis erupted, the major powers cried to each other about the need to stop the fighting, without any practical actions, or even taking a single step in this direction. Since the outbreak of the crisis, the intelligence services have certainly had a complete and accurate map showing the locations of Rapid Support Forces, their weapons’ stores, and command, direction and control sites, as well as all the official and unofficial ports and corridors through which weapons can be smuggled into Sudan.

The continuity of the war is not due only to traditional factors but is primarily linked to the fact that regional and global parties wanted the crisis to break out, in the first place, and for the war to continue for as long as possible. It may later be transformed into a permanent status and an actual division of the territory of the Sudanese State, joining the series of disintegration and collapse that has afflicted Arab countries that had previously been central and had a pivotal role in determining the fate of the region as a whole.

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.