Tensions Among Sudanese Military Leaders Invoke Violent Conflict

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Policy Briefs Program

April 18, 2023

On Saturday, April 15, violent conflict between the Sudanese military and Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary group broke out in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, invoking at least 180 casualties and1,800 injuries over the course of multiple days. The fighting has continued into Tuesday. 

Since a coup in October of 2021, two generals have played a major role in Sudanese leadership: Sudan’s army chief Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his deputy counterpart RSF leader Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (Hemedti”). Last weekend’s conflict occurs after RSF were redeployed throughout Sudan “in a move that the army saw as a threat.” The escalated violence has led neighboring countries and international organizations to discuss avenues towards peace in Sudan; however, Sudan’s government has asserted its desire to resolve the conflict internally and independently. 

After ousting Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in 2019, General Burhan led the transitional government. However, tension between Burhan and Dagalo have escalated over disagreements on the transition from military to civilian rule. Written in Khaleej Times, the fighting arose over “the RSF’s integration into the military. Discord over the timetable for that has delayed the signing of an internationally-backed agreement with political parties on a transition to democracy after a 2021 military coup.”

The violence has continued since Saturday, with both sides claiming control over key areas in the capital Khartoum. Profiled in Haaretz, eyewitnesses stated “the army had carried out air strikes on RSF barracks and bases in the Khartoum region and managed to destroy most of the paramilitaries’ facilities. They said the army had also wrested back control over much of Khartoum’s presidential palace from the RSF after both sides claimed to control it and other key installations in Khartoum, where heavy artillery and gun battles raged into Sunday. RSF members remained inside Khartoum international airport besieged by the army, but it was holding back from striking them to avoid wreaking major damage, witnesses said.”

The high degree of violence and civilian casualties caused international outcry, with many regional actors calling for discussions towards peace. Highlighted in Ahram Online,  “influential northern neighbour Egypt announced it had discussed with Saudi Arabia, South Sudan and Djibouti—all close allies of Sudan—‘the need to make every effort to preserve stability and safety.’ The Gulf emirate Qatar spoke to African Union commission head Moussa Faki Mahamat, who is planning to ‘immediately’ undertake a ceasefire mission.”

International organizations have also noted violence towards humanitarian and aid workers in Sudan. Underscored in Al-Manar, “The World Food Programme (WFP) suspended all operations in the country after the killing of three of its staff in North Darfur on Saturday. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for accountability and Volker Perthes, UN special envoy for Sudan, expressed shock at the reports of shelling and looting impacting UN and other humanitarian facilities. Medics have appealed for safe corridors for ambulances and a ceasefire to treat the victims, as the streets are too dangerous to transport casualties to hospitals.”

Many are concerned that this conflict could damage stability and enhance great power competition on a regional level. Gulf Daily News analyzes that “continued violence could destabilise a volatile region and play into competition for influence there between Russia and the US, and among regional powers that have courted different actors in Sudan. Egypt, which has long been wary of political change in Khartoum, is the most important backer of Sudan’s armed forces. Hemedti has cultivated ties with several foreign powers including the UAE and Russia.”
Despite multiple calls for a ceasefire and diplomatic negotiations from external actors, Sudan’s foreign ministry maintained that this was a domestic issue that must be solved independently. In a statement published by Sudan News Agency, “the Foreign Ministry expressed its appreciation for the efforts of Arab and African countries and the international community to help calm the situation in the country, and stressed that the matter is an internal one that should be left to the Sudanese to achieve the required settlement among them, away from international interference.

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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