Falling off the Fence: Russian Mercenaries Join the Battle for Tripoli

Andrew McGregor

October 8, 2019

Russia’s so-far ambiguous approach to Libya’s internal conflict, one of reassuring both sides of its continued support, has begun to shift with the deployment of Russian mercenaries backing “Field Marshal” Khalifa Haftar on the front lines of the battle for Tripoli. Despite Moscow’s search for deep-water ports on the Mediterranean coast, control of oil supplies to Europe, influence over migrant flows to Europe from sub-Saharan Africa, and preference in massive reconstruction contracts, the Kremlin has still refrained from offering Haftar unequivocal support in his attempt to conquer Libya and create a family dynasty.

Russian Mercenaries in Southern Tripoli (Libya February TV)

Haftar first began seeking Russian assistance in 2015 after being impressed by Russian military operations in Syria and promised “oil, railways, highways, anything you want” in return for military aid and diplomatic support in his battle with Tripoli’s Presidential Council/Government of National Accord (PC/GNA), which is recognized by the United Nations (Meduza, October 2, 2019). Moscow declined any official military support at that time, opting instead to unleash its private military contractors (PMC), beginning with the arrival of the RSB Group in 2017. Haftar met with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Wagner PMC boss Yevgeny Prigozhin in Moscow in 2018 (Novaya Gazeta, November 9, 2018; YouTube, November 7, 2018). Russian officials insisted Prigozhin was at the meeting only in his capacity as caterer (RIA Novosti, November 11, 2018). But Wagner PMC personnel subsequently arrived in Libya in March of this year to carry out repairs to Russian-made military equipment (Janes.com, September 13, 2019).

A number of important documents related to Wagner PMC activities in Libya were obtained in September by the Dossier Center (funded by former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky) and Russian news portal The Project, in cooperation with the Daily Beast news agency (The Project, September 12). One of the more interesting documents was written or modified by Pyotr Bychkov, a trustee and African expert in Prigozhin’s Fund for the Defense of National Values (FDNV). The document outlines Haftar’s efforts to exaggerate or publicize his Russian military connection in order to awe his enemies. Haftar comes under criticism for using extortion and bribes (some $150 million provided by the United Arab Emirates) rather than military activity to ensure his campaign to bring southwestern Libya under his control (FDNV, April 10).

Russia is reportedly seeking a role for Muammar Qaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes committed during the 2011 revolution (Alarabiya.net, December 30, 2018; Bloomberg, September 25, 2019). Two Russian operatives working for the FDNV were arrested by the GNA in May on charges of political interference related to meetings with Saif al-Islam Qaddafi (Nation News, July 5). Documents obtained by the Dossier Center revealed Russian operatives were unimpressed by Saif al-Islam, noting that he had “a flawed conception of his own significance” and would require full-time Russian minders if used as a political frontman. Hedging their bets, the Russians created Facebook pages promoting both Qaddafi and Haftar. While plans to help rig elections should Haftar run in the future were outlined, it is clear that the Russians were similarly unimpressed with the field marshal (The Project, September 12).

Shortly after Haftar’s Tripoli offensive began, Russia moved to veto a UN Security Council statement calling on the LNA to halt its advance on Tripoli (France24, April 8). Haftar arrived in Moscow three days later. United States President Donald Trump made a secret phone call to Haftar on April 15 (made public on the April 19), reversing US support for the UN-recognized PC/GNA government without consulting the State Department.

A Russian briefing report dated April 6 noted that LNA officers appealed to the commander of the Russian PMC, Lieutenant General A. V. Khalzakov, for deployment of a Russian drone to find a GNA artillery battery that had inflicted serious casualties on LNA forces. The appeal was denied (FDNV, September 13).

GNA forces targeted an LNA operations room in Souk al-Sabat (35 kilometers south of Tripoli) on September 9, killing a reported seven Russian and Ukrainian mercenaries. The men were believed to be operating a howitzer battery firing on Tripoli (Anadolu Agency, September 19; Libya February TV, September 9; for the Ukrainian role in Libya, see EDM, September 6).

Russian and Sudanese mercenaries fighting for Haftar were reported to have made gains in southern Tripoli this month before being repulsed by the Islamist Sumud Brigade, led by Salah Badi (Libya Observer, September 21). Photos of Russian Wagner PMC mercenaries began to appear on local social media on September 22 (Libya Observer, September 22).


A GNA strike on an LNA position on the Sabea frontline (south of Tripoli) on September 23 reportedly killed four LNA commanders and several Russian mercenaries (Libya February TV, September 23). The airstrike was carried out with a precision not commonly found in GNA air operations and was likely the work of Turkish Bayraktar drones operated by Turkish pilots in Tripoli. The Russians were allegedly caught in the open as they prepared to lead an assault on GNA positions (Meduza, October 2). Sources consulted by Meduza offered estimates of between 15 and 35 Russians killed in the airstrike, though an anonymous source in the Russian defense ministry claimed only one Russian had been killed. Meduza, an investigative news service specializing in Russian affairs, based its revelations on interviews with Wagner PMC fighters and commanders as well as Federal Security Service (FSB) and interior ministry forces veterans with close ties to Wagner Group.

 Vadim Bekshenyov (Citeam.org)

Further operations in the area uncovered personal belongings apparently abandoned as Russian fighters retreated. The possessions of one Vadim Bekshenyov, a veteran of the Syrian conflict, included a Russian bank card, Russian ID, printed Russian Orthodox icons, Syrian currency and a photo of a medal awarded by the Russian government for service in Syria. Evidence suggested the mercenary was a former marine in Russia’s Pacific Fleet (Defense Post, September 26; Facebook.com, September 25; Facebook.com, September 25; Citeam.org, September 27).

Russian Medal for Syrian Service on Bekshenyov’s Phone (Citeam.org)

The covert nature of the Wagner Group’s Libyan operations is reflected in the fact that neither the PMC nor the Russian government notified families of combat deaths or returned to them the bodies and decorations of deceased fighters (the usual practice) (Meduza, October 2). So far, Russian mercenary assistance has been unable to move the frontline in southern Tripoli. Russian failure in this campaign would be a blemish on Russian arms, so the Kremlin will be certain to continue to deny all knowledge of private Russian troops in Libya while keeping other political options open—however unpalatable.

This article first appeared in the October 8, 2019 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Eurasia Daily Monitor

Power and Rebellion in Chad: A Profile of Rebel Leader Mahamat Nouri Allatchi

Andrew McGregor

September 4, 2019

General Mahamat Nouri Allatchi in France (DR via al-Wihda)

At 72 years of age, Chad’s General Mahamat Nouri Allatchi has survived numerous battles, headed a series of rebel movements, and evaded repercussions for being a close associate of one of Africa’s worst mass murderers. Now, however, this veteran soldier and politician is facing prosecution in France for alleged war crimes.

With nearly 200 ethnic groups and a roughly 60-40 split between Muslims and Christians, governing Chad is a formidable task. Since the murder of its first president in 1975, Chad’s Christian south has played only a minimal role in national politics, which is now dominated by nomadic and semi-nomadic Muslims of Chad’s north and east, particularly the Tubu, Tama, Arab, and Zaghawa peoples. The latter, despite representing only roughly 3% of the population, have become disproportionately powerful. [1]

Complicating the issue of governance is Chad’s status as one of the most corrupt and impoverished nations on earth. The discovery of over one billion barrels of oil inside Chad has not eased a seemingly intractable humanitarian crisis – despite the best efforts of the World Bank, much of the money that has flowed through Chad’s capital of N’Djamena has been spent on arms or disappeared into the accounts of the country’s leaders. Most notable of these is Chad’s president, Idriss Déby Itno, who has not relinquished power since seizing it in 1990.

In this stagnant political atmosphere, scores of rebel movements have emerged in the last three decades, though few seem to have any kind of plan other than to simply take power for themselves. As noted by one observer,

In Chad, armed violence is one of several modes of intervention in the political field. From the point of view of those who resort to such actions, engaging in politics by force of arms is neither more nor less commonplace than engaging in politics without arms, even if the results are not the same. [2]

Early Career

Mahamat Nouri was born in 1947 at Faya Largeau as a member of the Anakaza sub-group of the Gura’an, part of the larger Daza Tubu ethnic group.

Nouri worked in northern Chad as a postal official until sometime in the late 1960s or early 1970s, when he joined a northern rebel movement fighting the southern-dominated government of François Tombalbaye, who was attempting to institutionalize the animist rituals of his southern Sara people (Jeune Afrique, February 11, 2008).  Nouri served in the Second Army of the Front de libération nationale du Tchad (FROLINAT – National Liberation Front of Chad) alongside two future Chadian presidents, Goukouni Oueddei (Tumaghera clan of the Daza Tubu), and Hissène Habré (an Anakaza Gura’an, like Nouri). When a 1976 dispute between Oueddei and Habré shattered the movement’s unity, Nouri followed Habré into a new group, the Forces Armées du Nord (FAN).

General Félix Malloum

Tombalbaye was killed in a coup d’état led by southerner General Félix Malloum (Sara) in April 1975. Nouri was given the sensitive job of negotiating the Khartoum peace accord on behalf of FAN in 1978. The accord created a coalition government with General Malloum in which Habré was made Prime Minister and vice-president. Nouri’s loyalty to Habré was rewarded by his appointment as Interior Minister in the new government. The coalition collapsed in February 1979; Malloum resigned in March and a new national unity government was formed with Goukouni Oueddei at its head.

Chad entered a period of multi-sided armed political struggle, with Oueddei and Habré as the main contenders. Oueddei appealed to Libyan leader Mu’ammar Qaddafi for military assistance in December 1980, enabling the president to force Habré and his troops out of the capital. Eventually, the FAN returned and took control in 1982, installing Habré as president. Nouri was given the post of Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation. By 1984, he was a leading figure in Chad’s sole legal political party. [3]

Nouri played a leading role as a military commander in the August 1987 Battle of Aouzou that helped end the so-called “Toyota War” (1986-1987) and expel Libya forces from northern Chad, where Qaddafi had tried to seize the allegedly uranium-rich Aouzou Strip (an International Court of Justice decision awarded Aouzou to Chad in 1994).

Nouri somehow evaded the consequences of his close association to the much-hated Habré. It is difficult to imagine that Nouri, Habré’s confidant and defense minister, could have remained unaware and uninvolved in the Habré regime’s reign of terror, during which some 40,000 people were executed or died in detention (Le Monde/AFP, May 17, 2013). Habré received a life sentence for various crimes against humanity from an African Union court in Senegal in 2016.

In Government

One of Habré’s leading generals, Idriss Déby Itno (Bideyat Zaghawa), led a column of rebels across Chad from their Darfur base in December 1990, forcing Habré to flee the country, never to return. Displaying remarkable political survival skills, Nouri joined the new administration in several leading posts, including Minister of Health, Minister of the Interior, Minister of Livestock, and Minister of Defence from 2001 to 2003. After a bout of ill health, Nouri was made ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 2004 to 2006.

Nouri resigned his post in 2006 after a dispute over funding of the Chadian embassy and Nouri returned to the field as a rebel and leader of the newly founded and mostly Gura’an Union des forces pour le progress et la démocratie (UFPD – Union of Forces for Progress and Democracy) (Echos [N’Djamena], May 11-14, 2006).

First Assault on N’Djamena, 2006

Desertion of ANT officers and men from the Armée nationale tchadienne (ANT – National Army of Chad) together with their arms and equipment began to plague the army, with many joining the armed opposition. With support from Sudan, which was feuding with the Déby regime, rebels of the Forces unies pour le changement (FUC – United Forces for Change) coalition led by Mahamat Nour launched a mass attack on N’Djamena in April 2006. Mahamat Nour (not to be confused with the subject of this profile) was the leader of the largely Tama Rassemblement pour la démocratie et la liberté (RDL – Assembly for Democracy and Liberty), which later became the core of the FUC.

The French garrison in N’Djamena provided Déby with important logistical and intelligence support that helped save the Déby regime. With support from Khartoum, the rebels formed a stronger coalition in October 2006, the Union des forces pour la démocratie et le développement (UFDD – Union of Forces for Democracy and Development). The coalition included Nouri’s own UFPD, part of the FUC and the Conseil démocratique révolutionnaire (CDR – Revolutionary Democratic Council), led by Acheikh Ibn ‘Umar Sa’id (Awlad Rashid Arab and, like Nouri, a former minister in Habré’s government) (Le Figaro, October 15, 2007). Only hours after issuing its founding statement, 800 men and 70 vehicles left their bases inside Darfur and launched attacks in eastern Chad on Goz Beïda, the capital of Dar Sila, and Am Timan, capital of the Salamat department (Chad is divided by departments, similar to states or provinces in other countries)  (Le Figaro, October 26, 2006). The UFDD was a potent coalition, but failed to bring in many Tama and Bideyat rebels who remained loyal to Mahamat Nour.

The coalition soon expanded to a total of 3,000 men from a variety of ethnic groups, including the Gura’an, Arabs, Bideyat, and Maba. [4] Schisms in the rebel camp continued, however, and Acheikh Ibn ‘Umar left in May 2007 with most of the UFDD’s Arabs to form the UFDD-Fondamentale together with veteran Arab rebel ‘Abd al-Wahid Aboud Makaye (Salamat Arab).

In November 2006, the UFDD was joined by Arabs of the Concorde nationale du Tchad (CNT – National Concord of Chad), led by Hassan Saleh al-Gaddam “al-Jineidi” (Hemat Arab) and Bideyat of the Rassemblement des forces democratiques (RaFD – Assembly of Democratic Forces) to carry out attacks on the towns of Am Zoer and Biltine in eastern Chad. Nouri’s forces went on to carry out a raid on Abéché, occupying the capital of Wadai province for 24 hours. [5]

Timan Erdimi (Jeune Afrique)

The RaFD was a Bideyat rebel movement led by twin brothers Tom and Timan Erdimi, who are also cousins (sometimes described as nephews or even uncles of the president). The brothers were formerly close to Déby and held various cabinet posts and important posts before abandoning the government in favor of rebellion in December 2005. [6]

Khartoum continued to show confidence in Nouri by supplying his group with vehicles, arms, and other war materiel. Nouri disclosed that the UFDD strategy would now involve attrition of the Chadian army through hit and run attacks, with a final assault on N’Djamena when the time was right. [7]

Peace talks were sponsored by Mu’ammar Qaddafi and mediated by Goukouni Oueddei. Nouri and other rebel leaders signed a peace agreement at Sirte in October 2007. The agreement was short-lived, however, with the UFDD and three other rebel movements launching new attacks in eastern Libya in what was widely described as the worst fighting in Chad in over 20 years. Both sides suffered heavy losses and Nouri’s UFDD, hit hard by heavy arms acquired with Chad’s new oil wealth, was forced to withdraw and regroup (AFP, December 9, 2007).

Second Assault on N’Djamena, 2008

With Khartoum’s encouragement, the UFDD, the FUC and the Rassemblement des forces pour le changement (RFC – Assembly of Forces for Change, the reorganized RaFD) of Timane Erdimi created a unified but ultimately three-headed command to mount a new assault on N’Djamena. The RFC’s Zaghawa troops remained the object of suspicion by other rebels for belonging to the same ethnic group as the president and his closest supporters.

In late January, 2008, the rebels set off from their bases in Darfur in three columns to depose the Déby regime, crossing 1,000 miles of desert with 2,000 men and approximately 300 vehicles. At Massaguet, 78 kilometers from N’Djamena, the rebels repelled an attack by the Chadian Army in bitter fighting that killed the ANT chief-of-staff, General Daoud Soumain. Fighters belonging to the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), a Darfur rebel movement led by Zaghawa and supported by Chad, joined Déby’s forces and withdrew into the capital with the defeated army. The Chadian rebels arrived in N’Djamena the next day, February 2, 2008, and quickly took most of the city.

The president was still unwilling to give up even though the battle reached the gates of the presidential palace on February 3, but this did not prevent Nouri and Timane Erdimi from quarreling in the midst of the unfinished battle over who would have supreme command over a new regime. This dissension at the top and an unwillingness by the rebels to take orders from anyone not belonging to the same movement weakened the assault as French forces again supplied logistics and intelligence to the Déby loyalists. Chadian helicopters operated from the French-protected airport, using French targeting information and (allegedly) Algerian mercenary pilots to pound rebel positions, driving them out of the city (TchadActuel, February 17, 2008). Chadian armor took a heavy toll on the lightly-armed rebels; Nouri later remarked: “Pick-ups can do nothing against a tank” (RFI, February 2, 2009). Hundreds of dead civilians, rebels, and soldiers covered the streets of the capital while hospitals tried to deal with thousands of wounded.

Deby holds his first press conference after the February 2008 attack on N’Djamena (Jerome Delay/AP/SIPA)

The failure of a UFDD column to arrive in time with ammunition and reinforcements due to JEM attacks also contributed to the collapse of the final push on the presidential palace (Sudan Tribune, February 8, 2018). In August 2008, Nouri was one of 11 rebel leaders sentenced to death in absentia by the criminal court of N’Djamena for his part in the assault on the capital (Le Monde/AFP, August 15, 2008).

The failure in N’Djamena prompted the formation of yet another rebel alliance with Nouri at its head – the Alliance nationale (AN). Joining the UFDD were the UFDD-F, the Union des forces pour le changement et la Démocratie (UFCD – Union of Forces for Change and Democracy, mostly Arabs from Wadai under Colonel Adouma Hassaballah Jedareb), and the Front pour le salut de la République (FSR – Front for the Salvation of the Republic), led by General Ahmat Hassaballah Soubiane, an Arab of the Mahamid branch of the Rizayqat tribe. However, Adouma and many of the Arabs soon left the coalition to form yet another movement, the Union des forces de la résistance (UFR – Union of Resistance Forces) over concerns Nouri was too tightly controlled by Khartoum (AFP, March 12, 2008).

Déby responded to the attack on N’Djamena by supporting a May 2008 JEM strike on Khartoum that nearly toppled President Omar al-Bashir. When the attack failed, Chad moved half its army (9,000 men) and three Russian-built attack helicopters up to the Sudanese border in anticipation of a retaliatory attack by the SAF (Le Monde, May 13, 2008).


Khartoum and N’Djamena finally tired of the very dangerous game they were playing and reached a rapprochement in 2010 that brought an end to support for cross-border insurgent groups. No longer needed, their leaders were sent away. Nouri was deported from Sudan to Qatar in 2010 and left for France a year later, where he was eventually joined by his deputy, Mahamat Mahdi ‘Ali. [8] Erdimi headed to exile in Qatar while many rebels headed north to lightly-governed southern Libya or south to join Muslim Séléka rebels in the northern Central African Republic (CAR).

Nouri criticized the conditions of his residence in France, noting that “although I am sentenced to death in my country, I am not entitled to political asylum [in France]. Proof that the relations between Paris and Déby are good!” (Paris Match, April 23, 2016).

Nouri was one of four Habré associates for whom the Chadian Justice Ministry issued international arrest warrants in May 2013. The rebel leader protested (unconvincingly) that he had only dealt with international relations and managed Air Tchad, asking: “Where have I committed crimes?” (Le Monde/AFP, May 17, 2013).

In 2015, Nouri sent Mahamat Mahdi ‘Ali to Libya to try to revive the UFDD. A member of the Kecherda sub-group of the Daza Tubu, Mahamat Mahdi recruited mainly from the Kecherda and the closely related Kreda, another Daza Tubu sub-group. With Nouri still in Paris, Mahamat Mahdi tried bringing the revived UFDD under his personal control, allowing them to be used as mercenaries by Misrata Islamists, but bloody clashes with Nouri’s Anakaza Gura’an supporters forced Mahamat Mahdi to leave the UFDD in March 2016 to form a new rebel group, the Front pour l’alternance et la concorde au Tchad (FACT – Front for Change and Concord in Chad). [9] Nouri responded negatively to the creation of FACT, describing it as nothing more than “a group of mercenaries in the pay of Misrata whose mission is to establish the power of Libyan Islamists in Jufra [central Libya]” (Paris Match, April 23, 2016).

In a 2016 interview, Nouri noted that under existing conditions, another 2008-style drive on N’Djamena was unlikely. Bases in Sudan were no longer available and Libya was an unsuitable launching point. Nonetheless, he suggested Déby could count only on the Presidential Guard as “resistance” was growing in both civil society and the army (Paris Match, April 23, 2016).

France imposed financial sanctions for a period of six months on Mahamat Nouri on January 19, 2017 under a provision of the French Monetary and Financial Code that allows for restrictions on financial assets belonging to “persons who commit, or attempt to commit, acts of terrorism” (Le Monde, June 23).  Nouri insisted he had no funds to freeze and claimed he was the victim of a “politico-judicial cabal assembled from scratch by the French authorities” designed to deliver him into the hands of Chadian authorities (Al-Wihda [N’Djamena], June 25, 2018).

Amidst growing concern over the activities of Chadian mercenaries in Libya, Nouri was among 23 Chadians for whom the Libyan Attorney General issued international arrest warrants on January 3, 2019.

After Chadian authorities reported the defection of 400 UFDD fighters to the government in March, Nouri responded that the real figure was “85 to 86,” the rest being either artisanal gold miners responding to a new ban on such work in northern Chad or army deserters turned rebel who wished to take advantage of an amnesty proclaimed in May 2018 (Al-Wihda [N’Djamena], March 14). Some of the defectors were ambushed by a Daju militia known as the “Toro Boro” near the point where they were to rendezvous with Chadian Army forces just south of the Libya-Chad border, suffering seven dead  (Al-Wihda [N’Djamena], March 9).

Arrest in Paris, 2019

Nouri was arrested by French police on June 17 after a two-year investigation by French prosecutors (Le Monde, June 23). Fellow exiles Abakar Tollimi and ‘Abd al-Rahman ‘Abd al-Karim were arrested at the same time (the latter was subsequently released due to a lack of evidence).

Among other charges, Nouri was accused of the forced recruitment of combatants between 2005 and 2010, including minors (RFI, June 22). When questioned by a French judge over claims regarding the use of child soldiers in a UN report, Nouri responded that the children depicted in the report’s photos were actually southerners with no involvement in Nouri’s northern rebel movement, basing his identification on the absence of the “finer nose” of the northern people. His lawyer, Elise Le Gall, appears ready to exploit the difficulty experienced by outsiders in understanding the complex structure and organization of Chad’s rebel movements to move for a nullification of the indictment (Le Monde, June 23).

The case is being handled by the Office central de lutte contre les crimes contre l’humanité, les génocides et les crimes de guerre (OCLCH – Central Office for Combatting Crimes Against Humanity, Genocide and War Crimes), which operates under universal jurisdiction, allowing it to arrest and try individuals on French territory for crimes committed elsewhere (France24.com/AFP, June 17).


In early February, a column of UFR rebels (mainly Zaghawa and Tama) tried to cross through Tibesti into Chad after fighting as mercenaries in Libya’s internal conflicts since 2013. From February 3 to 6, the column was struck 20 times by seven French Mirage aircraft working out of N’Djamena and Niamey. The attempt to reinsert the rebels into Chad was shattered and as many as 250 fighters were captured by ANT forces with the intention of trying them as terrorists (Al-Wihda [N’Djamena], February 9; RFI, February 7).

UFR rebels captured by ANT, February 2019 (Al-Wihda)

Though the UFR forces did not include the UFDD, the message was clear—France, which is using N’Djamena as headquarters for its counter-terrorist Operation Barkhane, is not prepared to tolerate any armed challenge to the Déby regime, its major African military partner.

The ANT, with active deployments against Islamist militants and other groups in Chad, Niger, Cameroon and the CAR, is badly overstretched at the moment, leaving Déby’s security reliant on the discreet support of the French. In this sense, Mahamat Nouri has become the victim of a greater struggle against Islamist terrorism in which Nouri and other Chadian rebel leaders have become disposable irritants.


[1] The Zaghawa consist of four sub-groups: the Zaghawa Kobe, who live mostly in Chad and form the largest Zaghawa group, the Zaghawa Wogi, who are split between Chad and the Sudan, the Bideyat, who are concentrated in the Ennedi Massif of northeastern Chad, and the Borogat, who are a mix of Zaghawa and Gura’an Tubu.

[2] Marielle Debos, Living by the Gun in Chad: Combatants, Impunity and State Formation, Zed Books, London, 2016.

[3] Samuel Decalo, Historical Dictionary of Chad, Scarecrow Press, 1987, p.236.

[4] Jérôme Tubiana, “La guerre par procuration entre le Tchad et le Soudan et la « darfourisation » du Tchad: Mythes et réalité,” Small Arms Survey, April 2008, http://www.smallarmssurveysudan.org/fileadmin/docs/working-papers/HSBA-WP-12-Chad-Sudan-Proxy-War-french.pdf

[5] Ibid

[6] For the Erdimi brothers, see: “A Family Affair: The Erdimi Twins and the Zaghawa Battle for Chad,” Militant Leadership Monitor, July 30, 2010.

[7] Roy May and Simon Massey: “Chad: Politics and Security,” Writenet, March 2007, https://web.archive.org/web/20070612230327/http://www.unhcr.org/home/RSDCOI/46384cde2.pdf

[8] For Mahamat Mahdi ‘Ali, see: “Rebel or Mercenary? A Profile of Chad’s General Mahamat Mahdi Ali,” Militant Leadership Monitor, September 7, 2017.

[9] Jérôme Tubiana and Claudio Gramizzi, “Tubu Trouble: State and Statelessness in the Chad-Sudan-Libya Triangle,” Small Arms Survey, Geneva, 2017, http://www.smallarmssurveysudan.org/fileadmin/docs/working-papers/SAS-CAR-WP43-Chad-Sudan-Libya.pdf


This article first appeared in the September 4, 2019 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Militant Leadership Monitor.

Foreign Drones Take to Libya’s Skies to Shatter Military Stalemate

Andrew McGregor

AIS Special Report, August 7, 2019

“Field Marshal” Khalifa Haftar’s three-month old offensive to take Libya’s capital of Tripoli has bogged down, forcing Libya’s would-be ruler to look to air operations to break the impasse. Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA, nominally representing the House of Representatives rival government in Tobruk) and the forces of the UN-recognized Presidency Council/Government of National Accord (PC/GNA) have both turned to foreign-made and operated drones to advance their struggle for dominance. The fact that these drones violate a UN arms embargo and their operators are probably foreign nationals highlights the increasing proxy nature of the conflict in Libya.

Bloodbath in Murzuq

On August 4, drones likely operated by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on behalf of the LNA targeted a meeting of some 200 local dignitaries gathered in Murzuq’s al-Qala district to discuss intercommunal violence. The result was 43 dead and more than 60 injured. The LNA confirmed the strike on Murzuq, but claimed it had targeted “Chadian opposition fighters,” a euphemism used by the LNA to refer to the indigenous Libyan Tubu, a non-Arab ethnic group found in southern Libya, northern Chad and eastern Niger. [1] The massacre followed an LNA airstrike in June that struck a migrant detention center in Tripoli, killing 44 migrants.

Chinese Drones over Misrata

Chinese Wing Loong II Drone (Dafz.org)

GNA forces in Misrata (north-west coast) announced the downing of one of the UAE’s Wing Loong II drones on August 3, adding that LNA warplanes unsuccessfully tried to destroy the drone before it could be retrieved by the GNA (Libya Observer, August 3, 2019). The drone was equipped with Chinese Blue Arrow 7 laser guided missiles, some of which were recovered by the GNA. The UAE has used the Chinese-built drones in Yemen and in last year’s LNA siege of Derna in eastern Libya. Misrata is a stronghold of anti-Haftar forces.

Wreckage of the UAE Wing Loong II Drone Downed Near Misrata (SouthFront.org)

The UAE was the first export customer for the Wing Loong II, which is comparable to the US General Atomics MQ-1 Predator, but sells for a fraction of the price ($1 to 2 million vs $30 million) (Dafz.org, November 10, 2018). The UAE’s drones deploy out of al-Khadim airbase in eastern Libya, which was expanded in 2016 to accommodate UAE air operations.

New Turkish Drones

Bayaktar TBII Drone System

On July 25, the LNA declared it had brought down a Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drone during an attack on al-Jufra Airbase, held by the LNA since June 2017. There was speculation that the craft may have been downed by one of the UAE’s Russian-made Pantsir S1 air-defense systems that have been spotted alongside LNA forces in Libya (SouthFront.org, July 25, 2019; Jane’s 360, June 19, 2019). The Bayraktar TB2, with a flight endurance of 24 hours and a payload of 150 kilograms, can carry out reconnaissance, surveillance and attack functions day or night. Twelve Bayraktar drones have been sold to Ukraine with another six purchased by Qatar (Daily Sabah [Istanbul], June 24, 2019). The GNA is believed to have obtained the drones in June or early July.

Destroyed Ilyushin Transports in al-Jufra (Avia.pro)

Two Ukrainian Ilyushin IL-76TD transports were destroyed in the drone strike on al-Jufra. The planes were two of five such transports belonging to Kiev’s Alfa Air and were produced between 1990 and 1992 (Libya Observer, July 28, 2019). The GNA also claimed to have destroyed ammunition depots and a hanger containing drones, though the LNA issued an unlikely claim that the aircraft were not delivering weapons, but were solely allocated to carry pilgrims to Mecca (Anadolu Agency [Ankara], July 26, 2019; Libya Herald, July 28, 2019).

Al-Jufra Region and Airbase (Libya Observer)

PC/GNA authorities claim al-Jufra Airbase is a gathering and provisioning point for mercenaries from Sudan and other nations involved in the assault on Tripoli as well as a launch point for foreign military aircraft (Libya Observer, July 30, 2019).  A spokesman for the PC/GNA’s military deployment (Operation Volcano of Rage) claimed the attack had killed 42 LNA members, adding that their artillery now had the Jufra airbase in range (Libya Observer, July 28, 2019).

Italian Commandos in al-Jufra

In retaliation for the strike on Jufra, Haftar’s forces struck Misrata airport with missiles the next day, the fifth such attack in 15 days (Libyan Express, July 27, 2019). After the strikes, the LNA declared that the raid had revealed the existence of an Italian military base, but the presence of Italian military personnel in Misrata has been known for several years.

Italy sent Special Forces units to Libya in August 2016 to support Tripoli’s efforts against Islamic State terrorists. The Italian deployment included members of the 9th Parachute Assault Regiment, the Italian Air Force, counter-terrorist specialists from the Carabinieri and commandos from the Comando Raggruppamento Subacquei e Incursori Teseo Tesei, a unit of Special Forces frogmen named for Major Teseo Tesei, who died in a 1941 human torpedo attack on Malta (Italian Insider, August 11, 2016).

Italy announced in April that its forces would remain in Tripoli and Misrata despite the launch of the LNA offensive to take Tripoli and, eventually, Misrata. The current deployment is believed to consist of 100 personnel in Tripoli and another 300 in Misrata (Arab News, April 9, 2019).

A LNA drone struck Misrata’s Air Academy on August 6. The LNA claimed to have struck a military cargo plane carrying ammunition, but local GNA-affiliated forces insisted the plane was a civilian cargo plane that had landed only minutes earlier (Libya Observer, August 6, 2019).

UAE Russian-Made Pantsir S1 Air Defense System in Yemen – Now in Use by the LNA?  (Defense-Blog.com)

GNA-aligned General Osama Juwaili warned that that the airport at Bani Walid (southeast of Tripoli) could be targeted next if it continued to be used by “Haftar’s gangs” as a military base for LNA fighters and mercenaries after the LNA lost Gharyan to GNA forces (Libya Observer, July 30, 2019).


It is unlikely that local Libyan forces are capable of operating the drones, suggesting an active military presence by both Turkish and Emirati air force personnel. Libya’s drone warfare illustrates the increasing internationalization of the Libyan conflict and its use as a proxy battleground. Perhaps most disturbing is the likelihood that Libya is also being used as a testing ground for new weapons technologies at the expense of its civilian population. The cynicism of the international community in its approach to Libyan bloodshed eight years into a seemingly interminable civil conflict hardly suggests that compromise and reconciliation will carry the day anytime soon. In the meantime, extremists and terrorists will make the most of the ongoing chaos to entrench themselves in Libya’s ungoverned regions.


  1. For more on the LNA’s conflict with the Murzuq Tubu, see: “Is Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army Carrying out Ethnic Cleansing in Murzuq?” AIS Special Report, July 20, 2019, https://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=4476 .

Army for Sale: Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces and the Battle for Libya

Andrew McGregor

AIS Special Report, August 4, 2019

RSF Patrol (al-Jazeera)

With their barely literate leader General Muhammad Hamdan Daglo “Hemetti” in full control of Sudan (though nominally only number two in the ruling military council), Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary has attracted international attention through its brutal repression of civilian demonstrators seeking civilian rule. [1] Now an estimated 30,000 strong, the RSF is deployed in the cities of Sudan, the goldfields of Darfur, the northern borders with Libya and Egypt, the battlefields of South Kordofan and Blue Nile State and even in Yemen, where they serve as part of the Saudi-led coalition battling Houthi rebels.

Good Days for African Warlords: General Muhammad Hamdan Daglo “Hemetti”

Though Sudan has little interest in the internal struggle for control of Yemen, the RSF’s deployment of as many as 10,000 men since 2015 was clearly made in return for Saudi and Emirati cash badly needed to prop up the flailing regime of ex-president Omar al-Bashir. Following the coup that overthrew al-Bashir, Sudan’s ruling Transitional Military Council (TMC) has accessed $500 million from the Saudis and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with pledges of another $2.5 billion in commodities to follow. Both nations see military rule as an effective way of keeping Muslim Brotherhood members (known as “Ikhwan” in Sudan) out of the Sudanese government.

Mercenaries for Sale

The TMC and its new civilian partners are in need of Saudi funds to keep new waves of economic protests from breaking out. Thus, the deployment to Yemen continues, but with the precedent of soldiers-for-dollars already set, the TMC is looking for new revenue streams as well as ways to keep Darfur’s Arabs of military age busy abroad rather than pursuing grievances against Khartoum at home.

The answer? A May 17 $6 million contract between the TMC and Dickens & Madson, a Montreal-based firm run by former Israeli intelligence agent Ari Ben-Menashe. Among other things, the contract stated Dickens & Madson would counter unfavorable media coverage of the TMC and (presumably) the RSF, arrange a meeting between President Trump and TMC leaders, and, most ambitiously, create a union with South Sudan and a joint oil project “within three months.”  With only days to go before three months are over, no such union or joint project has emerged.

Dickens & Madson also pledged to obtain financing for the TMC from the United States, the Russian Federation and other countries, including “funding and equipment for the Sudanese military.” Most importantly for the cash-strapped TMC, was the intent to “obtain funding for your Council [TMC] from the Eastern Libyan Military Command in exchange for your military help to the Libyan National Army (LNA).” [2]

The New Qaddafi? Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar (Reuters)

One thousand RSF members began arriving in eastern Libya in the last days of July, the beginning of a Libyan deployment that might eventually reach as many as 4,000 fighters. Their new employer is Libyan warlord “Field Marshal” Khalifa Haftar, whose self-styled “Libyan National Army” (a loosely disciplined collection of militias) has spent the last few months in a so-far frustrated attempt to seize the Libyan capital of Tripoli from the UN-recognized Presidency Council/Government of National Accord (PC/GNA).

According to al-Jazeera, leaked documents revealed that the UAE began picking up Sudanese military personnel in military aircraft from Khartoum in May. The agency further claimed that Hemetti had recruited 450 additional Arab mercenaries from Darfur, Chad and Niger. According to a source, Hemetti specified they should be “light-skinned and speak Arabic” (al-Jazeera, July 24, 2019). Hemetti would have had connections with the Arab tribes in these lands from his days in the Janjaweed, when Khartoum invited regional Arabs to fill areas where indigenous African Muslims had been displaced by state-sponsored violence. The UAE is one of Haftar’s major backers, providing military air support from their eastern Libyan base in al-Khadim.

The RSF is expected to provide security for the Libyan oil facilities that are expected to provide the funds needed to buy the RSF’s services, enabling Haftar to concentrate his forces for a final push to take Tripoli from the collection of militias that have aligned themselves with the PC/GNA.

The Montreal Connection

Ari Ben-Menashe, who arranged the rental of the RSF, is an arms dealer with a checkered business career and a controversial claim to have played a central role in the Iran-Contra affair. Ben-Menashe served a year in an American prison for his role in supplying arms to Iran before being acquitted on the grounds that he was working under orders from Israel. After failing to obtain refugee status in Australia, Ben-Menashe moved to Montreal in 1993, where he obtained Canadian citizenship and set up the Dickens & Madson consulting agency, though his American partner was deported in 2008 to the United States, where he was wanted on multiple racketeering and fraud charges in two states.

While secretly working for Zimbabwean despot Robert Mugabe in 2002, Ben-Menashe helped implicate Mugabe’s main political rival in charges of treason. There are allegations that Ben-Menashe was paid for his services by a Zimbabwean drug lord who wished to maintain his cozy relationship with Mugabe. In 2014, Ben-Menashe signed a $2 million deal with Libyan warlord Ibrahim Jadhran to promote the latter’s attempt to create an autonomous Cyrenaïcan state in eastern Libya. As in other deals Ben-Menashe had with Sierra Leone and the Central African Republic, the former intelligence agent pledged to work towards obtaining economic and military support from Russia. The fixer thus encouraged an existing trend to greater Sudanese-Russian cooperation that began with a January 2019 draft military agreement between the two countries that could lead to “a Russian naval base on the Red Sea” (Sputnik, January 12, 2019; Sudan Tribune, January 13, 2019). [3]

Ben-Menashe moved on to another Libyan warlord in 2015, signing a $6 million contract with Khalifa Haftar. Besides promising to improve Western media coverage of Haftar’s campaign against Libya’s UN-recognized government, Ben-Menashe again agreed to seek grants from the Russian Federation “for security equipment and technical support.” Haftar’s campaign received a huge boost in April when Haftar discussed “ongoing counterterrorism efforts” with President Trump by phone. The White House followed up with a statement recognizing “Field Marshal Haftar’s significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources” (Reuters, April 19, 2019). Despite multiple accusations of war crimes and human rights violations including summary executions of opponents and the indiscriminate bombing of civilian targets such as hospitals, refugee centers and residential housing, Haftar has already received covert military and open diplomatic support from Russia, Egypt, France, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. [4]

Hemetti’s Revenue Streams

Renting out young Darfuri fighters is a proven revenue source for Hemetti. Musa Hilal, Hemetti’s former mentor and Janjaweed commander, opposed the deployment to Yemen and encouraged Arab tribesmen in Darfur not to volunteer. Hilal also accused Hemetti and his patron, former Second Vice President Hasabo Muhammad ‘Abd al-Rahman (like Hemetti, a member of the Mahariya Branch of the Rizayqat Arabs), of siphoning off millions of dollars donated to Sudan by Saudi Arabia and the UAE in exchange for the use of the RSF in Yemen (al-Jazeera, September 10, 2017).  Hemetti was reported to have been paid directly, and told a press conference he deposited $350 million in Sudan’s Central Bank, but was not clear on how much he may have kept for personal or political uses (African Arguments, August 1, 2019).

An RSF Column in the Desert (AFP)

An April 2018 New York Times investigation of the traffic in migrants through Sudan, based on separate and confidential interviews with known smugglers, suggested that the RSF was, according to the smugglers’ testimony, the main organizer of the cross-border trade, supplying vehicles and sharing in ransom revenues obtained from the detention of the migrants in Libya (NYT, April 22, 2019).

Hemetti’s control of much of Sudan’s newly discovered gold reserves (some of it wrested from Musa Hilal by force) provides him with the financial clout needed to make the former camel trader a candidate for Sudan’s presidency. Darfur, Sudan’s “Wild West,” is already producing enough gold to make it Africa’s third-largest producer, though a remarkable 70% is believed to be smuggled of the country via remote air strips.


  1. For RSF commander Hemetti, see: “Snatching the Sudanese Revolution: A Profile of General Muhammad Hamdan Daglo ‘Hemetti’,” Militant Leadership Monitor, June 30, 2019, https://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=4455
  2. The contents of the contract were revealed under the requirements of the US Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). The document can be seen in full at: https://efile.fara.gov/docs/6200-Exhibit-AB-20190617-8.pdf
  3. For Russian mercenaries in Sudan and Russia’s search for a naval base on the Sudanese Red Sea coast, see: “Russian Mercenaries and the Survival of the Sudanese Regime,” Eurasia Daily Monitor, February 6, 2019, https://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=4356
  4. For LNA war crimes, see: “Libya’s Video Executioner: A Profile of LNA Special Forces Commander Mahmud al-Warfali, Militant Leadership Monitor, July 6, 2018, https://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=4214

Is Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army Carrying Out Ethnic Cleansing in Murzuq?

Andrew McGregor

AIS Special Report, July 20, 2019

Tubu Rider in Murzuq

Deep in the desert of Libya’s southwestern Fezzan region is the ancient town of Murzuq, a small commercial hub and oasis in the midst of some of the world’s most difficult and energy-sapping terrain. At the moment, it is the scene of a bitter struggle between local fighters of the indigenous black Tubu group and Libyan National Army (LNA) forces led by “Field Marshal” Khalifa Haftar, a former CIA asset now tentatively backed by Russia.  Haftar also enjoys military support from Egypt, France and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in his campaign to conquer Libya.

Murzuq is not an easy place to live – the town experiences extreme heat year round. In the current summer months, Murzuq has an average daily temperature of over 90º F and daily highs over 100º F. In the 19th century, Murzuq was infamous for a virulent and usually fatal fever that felled Ottoman authorities and European visitors alike. Despite this, Murzuq remains home to many members of the indigenous Tubu ethnic group, famous for their physical endurance and martial skills. The Tubu, ranging through southern Libya, eastern Niger and northern Chad, share a common culture but are split by dialect into two groups, the northern Teda and the southern Daza.

Murzuq at 14º E and 26º N.(Atlas of Reptiles of Libya)

Many Libyan Tubu have complained of “ethnic cleansing” by Libya’s Arabs and Arab/Berber tribes since the 2011 Libyan revolution, even though most Tubu sided with the revolutionaries against Qaddafi, who had revoked their citizenship and treated them as foreign interlopers despite their historical presence in southern Libya long before records were kept. In this, they stood apart from their Saharan neighbors and occasional rivals, the Tuareg, most of whom backed Qaddafi and played an important role in the dictator’s army.

Until recently, the non-Arab Tubu and Tuareg had observed a century-old non-aggression treaty, but the Tubu have endured recurring clashes with Arab tribes, most notably (but not exclusively) the Awlad Sulayman in Fezzan and the Zuwaya in the Kufra region of southern Cyrenaïca (eastern Libya, Haftar’s power-base). The overthrow of the Qaddafi regime and the subsequent failure to replace it with a unified government has exacerbated these ethnic tensions and revived the Arab canard that the Tubu are foreigners from Chad and Niger in need of expulsion.


Murzuq is a strategically located city in the sparsely inhabited Fezzan, some 144 km south of the regional capital of Sabha, which has also been the site of battles between Tubu and Arab Awlad Sulayman factions since 2011. Unlike Sabha, with its Tubu minority, Murzuq is largely Tubu. Like many of the southern settlements centered on rare oases, Murzuq is home to an impressive Ottoman-era castle later used by Italian colonial garrisons.

Located on a route between nearly impassable and water-less sand seas, control of Murzuq is important to the control of Libya’s most productive oil fields as well as offering dominance of several trans-Saharan trade routes that must past through here. Italian-occupied Murzuq was the target of one of the Second World War’s most daring desert raids, with British and New Zealanders of the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) joining Free French desert fighters to cross hundreds of miles of barren desert to launch a surprise attack on the Italian outpost. Italian losses were heavy, the aerodrome and its bombers shattered and the fort badly damaged by mortar fire before the raiders withdrew. General Leclerc’s Free French returned to claim Murzuq in January 1943, completing the Allied conquest of the Fezzan.

Haftar’s Offensive in Fezzan

“Field Marshal” Khalifa Haftar leads the Libyan National Army (LNA), a loose coalition of militias ostensibly operating on behalf of one of Libya’s two competing government, the Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HoR). In practice, the LNA serves as a vehicle for the advancement of Haftar’s personal agenda, which includes taking control of Libya and establishing a family dynasty. Though most Tubu support the rival and UN-recognized Presidency Council/Government of National Accord (PC/GNA, based in Tripoli), there are also Tubu representative in the HoR. Tubu support for the PC/GNA is not firm, as the community regularly complains of a lack of government support and services in the south. The region as a whole continues to suffer from economic decline, widespread unemployment, inadequate infrastructure and soaring crime rates. Smuggling and human trafficking present attractive alternatives to grinding poverty.

Haftar began his offensive in southwestern Libya in January 2019, with the cited objectives of securing the region and “protecting residents from terrorists and armed groups” (Libya Observer, January 19, 2019). More importantly, for Haftar at least, was the necessity of securing the volatile and loosely governed Fezzan before advancing on Tripoli to complete Haftar’s conquest of Libya and destruction of the UN-recognized government before elections scheduled for December.

Before launching the offensive, Haftar formed a southern battle group in October 2018 composed of the 10th Infantry Brigade, the Subul al-Salam Battalion (Kufra-based Salafists, mostly Zuwaya Arabs), and the 116th, 177th and 181st Battalions (Libya Herald, October 24, 2018).

As LNA forces advanced on southwestern Libya, anti-Haftar Tubu fighters responded by creating the “South Protection Force” (SPF). In its first statement, the SPF condemned the LNA’s “military aggression” and called for an investigation into the LNA’s use of Sudanese mercenaries (Libya Herald, February 7, 2019). Both rival governments have resorted to using rebels from Darfur and Chad (many of the latter being Chadian Tubu) who have taken refuge in southern Libya after being forced out of their home bases by government military operations. Haftar and the LNA typically refer to Libyan Tubu as Chadian rebels in need of expulsion from southern Libya.

Clashes against Tubu fighters in Ghadduwah oasis (lying roughly halfway between Murzuq and Sabha) began on February 1, leaving 14 killed and 64 wounded (Libya Observer, February 2, 2019). Fighting continued through the week as the LNA claimed it was clearing Chadian rebel movements from the area. However, observers and local Tubu claimed that the oasis’s Tubu residents were the real target, leading to a series of resignations of Tubu HoR members and officials citing racial persecution (Libya Observer, February 3; Libya Observer, February 6, 2019). LNA spokesman General Ahmad al-Mismari had a different view of the military operations, insisting “Our Tubu brothers fight with us” (AFP, February 6, 2019). The oasis was eventually turned into a base for regional LNA operations.

Ottoman-Era Castle in Murzuk, 1821 (George Francis Lyon)

Warplanes attached to the LNA (likely UAE in origin) carried out an airstrike on Murzuk on February 3, killing 7 and wounding 22. LNA spokesmen claimed the strike had targeted a gathering of the “Chadian opposition” (Libyan Express, February 4, 2019). On the same day, French warplanes attacked a column of 40 pickup trucks carrying Chadian rebels across the border back into northern Chad. According to the LNA, these fighters were fleeing the LNA offensive (AFP, February 6, 2019). [1]

Local Tubu were alarmed that much of the LNA force advancing on Murzuq was composed of Tubu rivals such as the Brigade 128 (Awlad Sulayman), led by Major Hassan Matoug al-Zadma, and the Deterrence Brigade led by Masoud al-Jadi (Libya Observer, February 2, 2019). Also figuring prominently in the LNA force were Darfurian mercenaries from the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) who had been driven out of Darfur by the operations of Sudan’s military and the notorious Rapid Support Forces (RSF) of General Muhammad Hamdan Daglo “Hemetti.” [2] Murzuq HoR member Rahma Abu Bakr described the situation in Murzuq as “tragic” on February 4, saying the town was besieged by “tribal forces” (Libyan al-Ahrar TV [Doha], February 4, 2019).

By February 5, the LNA’s Tariq bin Zayid Brigade (Madkhali Salafists) was involved in clashes inside Murzuq as it prepared to mount an offensive on the Umm al-Aranib region, northeast of Murzuq. [3] At the same time, the LNA’s 141st Brigade was cutting off exit and entry points for armed groups within the town (Libya 218 TV [Amman], February 5, 2019). Stocks of fuel, food and medical supplies reached critically low levels under the LNA blockade. Tubu reluctance to negotiate with an LNA command composed of their tribal enemies and Sudanese mercenaries was stiffened by social media posts from individual members of the LNA force threatening the Tubu with genocide and expulsion from their traditional lands (Libya Observer, February 3, 2019).

Murzuq’s Old Mosque (foreground) and Ottoman-Era Castle as they appear today.

On February 8, the LNA announced it had carried out “violent and painful” airstrikes on three groups of “Chadians and their allies” near Murzuk (Defense Post, February 8, 2019). The next day, LNA aircraft struck the runway at nearby al-Fil oilfield just as a Libyan Airlines plane was about to leave for Tripoli with a load of sick and wounded people in need of treatment. Tripoli’s Presidential Council (PC) described the incident as “a terrorist act and a crime against humanity” and an attempt to deprive Libyans of their oil resources (Libya Observer, February 9, 2019).

Struggle for the Oilfields

A century-old peace agreement between the Tubu and the Tuareg that defined tribal territories did not survive the political violence that followed the 2011 revolution, with large clashes breaking out in the Tuareg-dominated city of Ubari, roughly 80 miles northwest of Murzuq.  A 2015 peace treaty brokered by Qatar that also included the Arab Awlad Sulayman was short-lived, though it was replaced by another agreement signed in Rome in 2017. However, Haftar’s intrusion into Fezzan and his alliance with the Awlad Sulayman brought an effective end to that treaty as well.

A chief objective for Haftar’s LNA in the south was control of the Sharara oilfield, Libya’s largest, capable of producing 315,000 barrels per day. Security at the facility was handled since 2017 by Tuareg fighters of Brigade 30, led by Ahmad Allal. The brigade initially repulsed attempts by the local LNA affiliated 177th Brigade (mostly Hasawna Arabs, led by Colonel Khalifa al-Seghair al-Hasnawi) to take over the Sharara oilfield (Libya Herald, February 7, 2019).

In response to the incursion by LNA fighters, the GNA commander for the Fezzan, Tuareg General Ali Kanna Sulayman, attempted to build a military alliance of Tubu and Tuareg minorities, most of whom shared similar grievances with the government and animosity towards Haftar and the Arab gunmen who followed him. [4 However, Kanna failed to bring Brigade 30 onside amidst pressure from Tuareg elders to abandon the facility in order to avoid pitting one Tuareg group against another. Kanna left for al-Fil and by February 12 the LNA-aligned Tuareg Brigade 173 began to move into the main facility after negotiating with armed protesters who had held parts of the oilfield since December 2018, forcing the National Oil Corporation (NOC) to declare a state of force majeure at the facility (Middle East Monitor, February 12, 2019; Middle East Eye, February 10, 2019).

Production resumed under LNA occupation, but by July 14, protesters again threatened to take over the facility as well as al-Fil oilfield, which has been closed by a strike over salaries since February (Libya Observer, July 14, 2019; AFP, July 15, 2019). Protesters frequently take over oil and water pumping facilities (part of Libya’s vast “Man-Made River” project) to call attention to days-long power outages and shortages of fuel and water in the south that persist despite the south being Libya’s main source of wealth and resources.

Battle for Murzuq

The LNA moved on Murzuq in early February, beginning with airstrikes and a fuel blockade. Once Sharara was secured, Awlad Sulayman fighters began to enter Murzuq from the east on February 20, though they met stiff resistance from Tubu fighters of the South Protection Force (Libya Observer, February 20, 2019).The assault on Murzuq followed failed negotiations between residents and the LNA, represented by LNA Special Forces commander Wanis Bukhamada.

Gunmen believed to belong to the LNA broke into the home of local security director Ibrahim Muhammad Kari on February 20, murdering the unarmed officer and stealing his safe before torching his home (Libya Observer, February 21, 2019).

The LNA claimed to have secured Murzuq on February 21, but other reports suggested the Tubu, aided by Chadian mercenaries, had in fact repulsed Haftar’s troops in ongoing fighting (Libya Herald, February 21, 2019). Within a few days, however, the LNA consolidated its control of Murzuq. By February 26, Tubu fighters were withdrawing to the south and the LNA announced it had “liberated Murzuq from Chadian gangs” (Libya Observer, February 24, 2019). The occupation permitted the LNA to take over the nearby al-Fil oilfield the following day.

LNA Brigadier ‘Abd al-Salim al-Hassi

Murzuq was quickly engulfed in looting, arson and extra-judicial killings. As many as 104 cars belonging to Tubu residents were stolen and 90 houses torched while activists and community leaders were hunted down by LNA gunmen. Even the home of local Tubu HoR representative Muhammad Lino as well as those of his brother and father were burned down, allegedly on the orders of the LNA’s commander of military operations in the west, Brigadier General ‘Abd al-Salim al-Hassi (Libya Observer, February 24, 2019).

One Murzuq resident complained that Libyan TV didn’t “say the truth, they just show the LNA celebrating and saying ‘we have liberated Murzuq and there is now security and freedom.’ But it’s not true. We are not okay and we do not have freedom” (Middle East Eye, February 26, 2019). There were soon numerous complaints from Tubu leaders and politicians that Haftar’s LNA was conducting “ethnic cleansing” and “ethnic war” (AFP, February 6, 2019; Libya Observer, February 23, 2019).

Much of the looting and arson was blamed on mercenaries from Darfur employed by Haftar’s LNA. One of the occupying brigades, the 128th (commanded by Awlad Sulayman Major Hassan Matoug al-Zadma) was composed of members of Kufra’s Zuwaya tribe and members of Fezzan’s Awlad Sulayman, both traditional enemies of the Tubu. Observers recorded video footage showing fighters from Darfur’s rebel Sudan Liberation Army – Minni Minawi (SLA-MM, mostly Zaghawa) operating as mercenaries tied to the LNA’s Brigade 128 (Middle East Eye, February 26, 2019; Middle East Eye, February 14, 2019; Libya Herald, February 7, 2019). [5]

Evacuation and Return

The LNA began a surprise evacuation of Murzuq late in the day on March 5, redeploying to Sabha after heavy clashes in Murzuq both before and during the evacuation that left four Tubu tribesmen dead (Libya Observer, March 6, 2019, Libyan Express, March 6, 2019).

As residents attempted to restore normalcy after the LNA occupation, Representative Muhammad Lino noted a lack of support from Tripoli’s PC/GNA and demanded to know whether there was coordination between allegedly rival political formations to “exterminate” the Tubu. The representative also noted that the HoR had denounced the March 15 mosque attack in New Zealand but had nothing to say about the death of Muslims in Murzuq (Libya Observer, March 26, 2019).

Tubu Folk Festival in Murzuq

Murzuq residents were dismayed when the LNA returned early this month, allegedly in pursuit of Chadian rebels and Islamic State terrorists whom they blamed for the armed resistance to the LNA’s return.  Murzuq’s Security Directorate issued a statement denying the presence of Chadian fighters or Islamic State forces in Murzuq, insisting only Tubu residents of the town were involved in the battle against Haftar’s invasion force (Libya Observer, July 9, 2019).

As the LNA re-occupied Murzuq, deadly clashes broke out between Tubu residents and members of the local al-Ahali community (Arabized black Libyans descended from slaves or economic migrants) (Anadolu Agency, July 11, 2019). On July 10, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) expressed concern over the human cost of Tubu clashes with the LNA occupiers (Libyan Observer, July 10, 2019).


It seems increasingly clear that Khalifa Haftar and his Arab allies in the LNA are intent on reversing any gains Libya’s southern minorities may have made since the 2011 revolution. Both the Tubu and the Tuareg were used and abused by the Qaddafi regime according to the “Supreme Guide’s” whims and needs. Both were denied their ethnic identity, the Berber Tuareg characterized in Qaddafi’s mind as “southern Arabs” and the indigenous Tubu denied all rights as Libyan citizens.

Some Tubu support the LNA’s campaign against Chadian rebels and mercenaries, but are dismayed by the LNA’s indifference to their support and their continuing identification of all indigenous Tubu as non-Libyan foreigners, an attitude fostered by Arab supremacists during and after the Qaddafi regime.

Like the Tuareg, Libya’s Tubu population is determined not to be driven out from their harsh ancestral homeland where they have roamed for thousands of years. The vast spaces of the Libyan interior, its brutal climate and harsh topography make deployment there highly unpopular amongst the coastal Arabs who contribute the vast majority of Haftar’s LNA. Securing Libya’s southern borders, oil resources and water supply will require the cooperation of Libya’s southern minorities, not their elimination. A new Libyan state cannot be built on a foundation of ethnic cleansing, identity denial and Qaddafi-era Arab supremacism.


  1. For the Chadian rebels and their efforts to return to Chad, see: “War in the Tibesti Mountains – Libyan-Based Rebels Return to Chad,” AIS Special Report, November 12, 2018, https://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=4308
  2. For Hemetti and the RSF, see: “Snatching the Sudanese Revolution: A Profile of General Muhammad Hamdan Daglo ‘Hemetti’,” Militant Leadership Monitor, June 30, 2019, https://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=4455
  3. For the role of the Madkhali Salafists in the Libyan conflict, see: “Radical Loyalty and the Libyan Crisis: A Profile of Salafist Shaykh Rabi’ bin Hadi al-Madkhali,” Militant Leadership Monitor, January 19, 2017, https://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=3840
  4. For General Ali Kanna, see “General Ali Kanna Sulayman and Libya’s Qaddafist Revival,” AIS Special Report, August 8, 2017, https://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=3999
  5. For Minni Minawi, see: “The Unlikely Rebel: A Profile of Darfur’s Zaghawa Rebel Leader Minni Minawi,” Militant Leadership Monitor, December 8, 2017, https://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=4088

The Inates Attack: Islamic State Embarrasses Niger’s Military… Again

Andrew McGregor

AIS Special Report,  July 3, 2019

For the second time in less than two months, militants belonging to the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) have demonstrated the poor intelligence and operational incapacity of Niger’s military through an hours-long attack on a Nigerien military base at Inates, 260 km north of the national capital, Niamey.

The assault on the advanced military post began July 1 at 2:30 PM with the arrival of a pair of suicide bombers in cars who charged into the center of the camp before detonating their charges. This was the signal for a large number of IS fighters on motorcycles to open fire on the camp, which they had surrounded.

(Map – BBC)

Responsibility for the attack was claimed on July 3 by the Islamic State’s Amaq news agency (Reuters, July 3, 2019).

Niger’s Defense Ministry reported the intervention of French and American warplanes that managed to drive away the attackers (RFI/AFP, July 12, 2019). Two French Mirage 2000 fighters from Niamey worked over the terrorists, killing several and destroying one truck, while American and French surveillance aircraft monitored the ISGS withdrawal. Eighteen Nigerien soldiers were killed in the ISGS assault.

Material losses in the ISGS attack included a barracks burnt to the ground by the suicide bombers, several vehicles incinerated and at least a dozen stolen, and the loss of numerous weapons. Four soldiers remain missing, likely either captured or lost after fleeing into the desert.

A place in Tillabéri known as Balley Béri was the site of a deadly Islamic State ambush of Nigerien troops on May 14. Twenty-eight men of the 112e Compagnie Spéciale d’Intervention (CSI) were killed, including their commander.

Troops of the Forces Armées Nigeriennes (FAN) on Patrol (AFP)

The attack raised security concerns in Niamey, which is hosting a summit of African Union leaders from July 4 to July 8. The real issue, however, concerns Niger’s inability to provide meaningful security in its remoter regions without the intercession of French military assets, a troubling development for Nigeriens who fear a loss of sovereignty and the development of a Paris-reliant neo-colonial state.

Snatching the Sudanese Revolution: A Profile of General Muhammad Hamdan Daglo “Hemetti”

Andrew McGregor 

June 30, 2019

Lieutenant General Muhammad Hamdan Daglo “Hemetti”

While it was no surprise that the Sudanese military took action to protect themselves by deposing President Omar al-Bashir in the midst of nationwide protests, what is surprising is who has emerged as Sudan’s de facto leader. Nearly illiterate and widely accused of war crimes and corruption, Lieutenant General Muhammad Hamdan Daglo “Hemetti” is officially the deputy chief of the ruling Transitional Military Council (TMC), but in reality appears to be the power behind nominal TMC leader General ‘Abd al-Fatah Burhan. As closely tied to the Bashir regime as almost any military figure in the country, Hemetti now acts as though Bashir’s overthrow was actually his idea amid concern he may use force to take the presidency for himself. Backing him up is the roughly 30,000-strong Rapid Support Forces (RSF – Quwat al-Da’m al-Seri), a paramilitary unit under his direct command.    

The last Darfur Arab to hold such a high position of power in Sudan was the Khalifa ‘Abdullahi ibn Muhammad (ruled 1885-1899), the Ta’aisha successor of Muhammad Ahmad “al-Mahdi.” After the defeat of the Mahdiyya in 1898, the Arab tribes of the Nubian Nile region (the Ja’alin, the Danagla, and the Sha’iqiya) gained local ascendancy in Sudan during the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium government. Since Sudan became independent in 1956, these riverine tribes have dominated the government and the military’s officer corps. Al-Bashir’s apparent support of the Darfur Arabs briefly masked a racial rivalry between these two Arab groups dating back to the Mahdiyya, with the riverine Arabs quietly despising the Darfur Arabs as too “Africanized,” while the Darfur Arabs regard the Nile Arabs as nothing more than “half-caste Nubians.”  [1] 

Early Career Janjaweed Warlord 

Hemetti is from the Awlad Mansur clan of the Mahariya branch of the Northern Rizayqat of North Darfur, many of whom in the 1980s moved to South Darfur, where they seized land from the indigenous Fur.  

When the Fur and the Zaghawa launched a revolt against the central government in 2003, Hemetti, a camel trader, joined the loosely disciplined pro-government Arab militia that soon gained notoriety as the infamous Janjaweed.  

The worst atrocities of the Darfur campaign occurred in the 2003-2005 period when Hemetti was one of Janjaweed leader Shaykh Musa Hilal’s leading lieutenants. The shaykh is the nazir (chief) of the Mahamid, another branch of the northern Rizayqat tribal group. 

The purpose of this government-inflicted violence was twofold: to destroy the rebels’ civilian support base and supply system and to drive out Darfur’s non-Arab population so land could be transferred to Arabs from Sudan and neighboring states such as Chad and Niger.  

However, as the Janjaweed leaders came to be reviled and condemned across the world, many began to rethink their commitment. Khartoum’s solution in 2005 was to absorb most of the Janjaweed into more centrally controlled units like the Border Guard Force (BGF – Haras al-Hadud) while claiming the Janjaweed were simply bandit groups that had been dispersed by the Sudanese army.  

Hemetti led a rebellion by the Mahariya Border Guards in 2007 over payment of back wages and unfulfilled promises of land grants. At one point, he threatened to storm Nyala, the capital of South Darfur. Eventually, the regime was forced to make major concessions to prevent the Arabs under Hemetti’s command from joining the armed opposition. [2]  

Disputes over allocation of arms, supplies and Land Cruisers broke out between Hilal’s BGF battalion and Hemetti’s battalion. As the BGF increasingly became unviable and unreliable, Khartoum separated Hemetti’s battalion from the BGF and used it as the basis for the new RSF. [3]  

Creation of the RSF 

Back in the government fold, Hemetti became a central figure in 2013 in the newly-created Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a paramilitary group under the command of the National Security and Intelligence Service (NISS – Jihaz al-Amn al-Watani wa’l-Mukhabarat), but more generally under the direct command of the president himself.  

One reason for forming the new paramilitary was al-Bashir’s distrust in his own army, which had largely failed to show up when Darfur’s Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) mounted a long-distance raid on the national capital and were only repelled by local police and NISS agents after street-fighting in Omdurman. The answer seemed to be the creation of a loyal military force answerable only to the president. The Janjaweed veterans provided an immediate and experienced source of manpower. Hemetti initially served as deputy to the first RSF commander, NISS Major General Abbas ‘Abd al-Aziz, a Ja’alin Arab and a relative of President Omar al-Bashir.   

Before the Coup: President Omar al-Bashir and General Muhammad Hamdan Daglo “Hemetti” (Altaghyeer)

Most Janjaweed members were from the semi-nomadic Abbala (camel-raising) tribes of northern Darfur rather than the Baqqara (cattle-raising) tribes of South Darfur. The Abbala included Hemetti’s Mahariya branch of the northern Rizayqat, who were never allotted lands of their own by the Fur Sultanate (c.1600-1916) or the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium government (1899-1955). As the RSF continued to grow in size, Hemetti’s fellow Mahariya were joined by members of other Arab tribes from Darfur and Chad as well as a small number of non-Arab Birked, Meidobis, Tama and Zaghawa from northern Darfur. 

Hemetti is the most outstanding example of how the Bashir regime circumvented the influence of traditional rulers in Darfur by arming and enriching young men willing to do Khartoum’s bidding. As such, Hemetti was opposed by the Mahariya Rizayqat’s chief, Muhammadein al-Dud, who refused to send 2,000 young men for RSF recruitment. [4] On the other hand, the RSF enjoyed the patronage of Sudanese Vice President Hassabo ‘Abd al-Rahman, who was, like Hemetti, a Mahariya Arab. 

The RSF soon showed signs of growing indiscipline at all levels, leading to clashes with police and BGF units. Civilians in RSF-occupied areas endured rape, robbery, and looting. The unit rolled into Khartoum in September 2013 to help repress demonstrations in the capital during which some 200 civilians lost their lives (al-Arabiya, November 10, 2013). [5] In West Kordofan, a local uprising against the RSF was actually assisted by the local SAF garrison, appalled at the RSF’s methods (Radio Dabanga, February 26, 2014). 

The RSF was deployed to South Kordofan in late 2013 to tackle the rebellion of the non-Arab Nuba led by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement-North (SPLA/M-N). Fighting experienced rebels rather than civilians, the RSF suffered heavy losses. SPLA/M-N secretary-general Yasir Arman described the RSF as nothing more than a gang of mercenaries and war criminals (Radio Dabanga, May 14, 2014).  

Withdrawn to al-‘Ubayd in North Kordofan, the RSF’s continuing bad behavior led to massive protests calling for their withdrawal. According to some reports, the government paid the RSF $3 million to leave the city (al-Taghyeer [Khartoum], February 13, 2014; Radio Dabanga, February 14, 2014).  

The RSF launched a series of attacks on Minni Minawi’s SLM/A-MM rebel movement in Darfur during the first months of 2014. Minawi’s group was forced to split, with some fighters taking refuge in South Sudan, while the majority headed north across the Libyan border, finding work as mercenaries in Libya’s civil war. Hemetti’s men repelled an April 2015 attempt by JEM and the SLM/A-MM to re-enter Sudan from their temporary bases in South Sudan’s Bahr al-Ghazal region. Hemetti, now a brigadier, reported the capture of 340 rebels and 161 Land Cruisers (Radio Dabanga, April 29, 2015). 

Hemetti’s growing power became apparent when two-time Sudanese prime minister Sadiq al-Mahdi (leader of the opposition National Umma Party and imam of the Ansar Sufi movement) was arrested, interrogated and accused of treason for questioning the RSF’s violence against civilians and its alleged recruitment of foreign Arabs from Chad, Libya, Mali, and the Central African Republic (Al-Jazeera, May 19, 2014).  

By mid-2016, the RSF’s usual abuses against civilians in the Jebel Marra region of Darfur and clashes with SAF units trying to protect civilians led to an SAF request for the RSF’s withdrawal. [6]  

On the Frontline of the Migration Crisis 

After Khartoum pledged to work to prevent massive flows of migrants from crossing through Sudan to Libya and on into Europe, the EU responded with a grant of €100 million (approximately $112.5 million) to assist these efforts. This contribution was on top of a €40 million (approximately $45 million) donation from the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa dedicated to better management of migration through the region (Sudan Tribune, April 12, 2017). [7] 

The RSF became the agency assigned with controlling migrant flows across the border, and by mid-2016, the RSF was detaining hundreds of illegal migrants, mostly from Ethiopia and Eritrea. The work was not easy, being carried out in trying desert conditions against well-armed human traffickers.  

However, that was not the full story. Investigations revealed that the RSF actually joined the human trafficking across the border into Libya, working with Subul al-Salam, a Salafist militia based in Kufra and aligned with Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA), as well as Chadian rebels based in southern Libya and Tubu militias aligned with the UN-recognized government in Tripoli. [8]  

This did not prevent Hemetti from complaining Europe did not appreciate the sacrifice of RSF men and vehicles in the fight against the armed traffickers and threatened (likely on his own initiative) to withdraw his men from their positions along the border with Libya (Sudan Tribune, August 31, 2016; AIS Special Report, June 13, 2018). 

The President’s Approval 

The RSF was removed from NISS control in January 2017 and integrated into the SAF, but in practice the formation remained under the direct orders of the president (Al-Taghyeer.info [Khartoum], July 19, 2017). In May 2017, al-Bashir declared the creation of the RSF to be the best decision he had made as president and urged RSF members to “terrorize their enemies” (Middle East Observer, May 14, 2017). 

To combat Hemetti’s image as a murderous warlord, a PR campaign was launched that saw the RSF leader opening mosques, making charitable donations and promising to mediate between Darfur’s combative tribes (Al-Taghyeer.info [Khartoum]; July 19, 2017).  

In early 2017, Minawi’s forces, divided between Libya and South Sudan, attempted a rendezvous in the Kutum region of Darfur, where they hoped to hook up with Nimr Abd al-Rahman’s rebel SLM/A-Transitional Council (SLM/A-TC). This union was interrupted by the RSF, which engaged the rebels in a four-day battle, driving the survivors back into Libya or along the Wadi Howar into Chad (Sudan Tribune, May 29; 2017; Radio Dabanga, May 21, 2017). 

Musa Hilal (AFP)

The RSF deployment along the Libyan border ignited new tensions in August-September 2017 between Hemetti and his rival, Musa Hilal, now commander of the BGF. Hemetti was able to promote himself as a solid supporter of al-Bashir compared to Hilal, who abandoned a government post in Khartoum and returned to Darfur in January 2014 following a dispute with the regime. Taking advantage of the regime’s weak control of northern Darfur, Hilal was able to create the Sudanese Revolutionary Awakening (Sahwa) Council (SRAC), an 8,000-strong, mostly Mahamid Arab armed movement (many of whose members were also part of the BGF) that quickly established its own administration in northwest Darfur funded largely by the discovery of gold in the Jabal Amr region in 2012. SRAC, the RSF and local Arab tribes began to clash over control of the gold deposits. SRAC members began to be arrested or killed by the RSF, who claimed they were armed traffickers. SRAC in turn accused the RSF of smuggling vehicles across the borders with Libya and Chad (Radio Dabanga, September 25, 2017).  

Artisanal gold mining in South Kordofan (Adam Moller)

Incensed by the killings of his men, Hilal dispatched 200 vehicles with SRAC gunmen to besiege the RSF until it turned over those responsible. Acceptance by both sides of a mediation offer averted a major battle. Mediation ultimately favored SRAC and the BGF, with the RSF compelled to hand over detainees, vehicles and military gear. The RSF was also forced to make concessions over control of the Jebel Amr goldfields (Radio Dabanga, September 29, 2017). 

Further south, Hemetti and 1,000 RSF men arrived in the Blue Nile State capital of al-Damazin in June 2016 to reinforce SAF operations against the SPLM/A-N, but quickly alienated the local civilian population by robbing shops and referring to the non-Arab locals as abid (slaves), a common racial epithet in Sudan (Radio Dabanga, June 1, 2016).  

Eliminating the Competition 

Defense Minister Lieutenant General Ahmad Awad Bin Auf attempted to integrate the Hilal-led BGF into the RSF in July 2017, but SRAC rejected this “unwise” decision and announced the BGF would refuse integration (Radio Dabanga, July 23, 2017; Sudan Tribune, August 14, 2017).  

Hemetti finally triumphed in his rivalry with Musa Hilal in November 2017, when he was given permission by Khartoum to arrest and detain Hilal along with his three sons, three brothers, and several aides (Radio Dabanga, November 27, 2017). The arrests came as part of a six-month effort by the RSF to disarm unauthorized armed groups in Darfur.  

The arrests were not a simple matter; the RSF were ambushed on their way to Hilal’s headquarters at Mistiriyha, losing nine men, among them an RSF brigadier. Once they reached Mistiriyha, Hemetti’s RSF conducted a mass arrest of all males and drove the women and children into the hills without food, water or shelter (Sudan Tribune, November 29, 2017). 

Expedition to Yemen 

Units of the RSF were deployed to Yemen in early 2017 to assist Saudi and UAE forces in their war against rebel Houthi militias.  

The RSF’s deployment in Yemen was strongly opposed by Musa Hilal, who encouraged tribesmen not to volunteer and accused Hemetti and Vice President ‘Abd al-Rahman of stealing millions of dollars donated by Saudi Arabia and the UAE as compensation for Sudanese participation in Yemen’s civil war (al-Jazeera, September 10, 2017). 

Hemetti shocked Sudanese when he publicly admitted 312 Sudanese soldiers had been killed in the Yemen campaign, most of them members of the RSF (al-Sayha [Khartoum], September 27, 2017; Terrorism Monitor, October 27, 2017). Serving as deputy to expedition commander General ‘Abd al-Fatah al-Burhan (now TMC chairman), Hemetti developed important ties to Saudi and Emirati commanders and leaders. 

Hemetti and other units of the RSF arrived in Sudan’s Kassala State in early 2018, ostensibly to interrupt smuggling operations of the Rasha’ida Arabs (who live in eastern Sudan and northern Eritrea) and protect the population from what the government claimed was an impending invasion of Egyptians or Egyptian-sponsored rebels from Eritrea. In reality, the RSF used the pretext of smuggling to loot and kill locals in what one local leader called “a real nightmare provoking panic and fear.” As with other RSF deployments inside Sudan, there were soon demands that the paramilitary be withdrawn immediately (Radio Dabanga, March 23, 2018). 

Post-Coup Ascension 

Fearful that months of nationwide protests might result in the dismantling of the whole Sudanese regime, SAF generals moved to arrest President al-Bashir on April 11. General al-Burhan emerged as the junta’s official chief, with Hemetti as his deputy, though the RSF commander’s meetings with foreign diplomats suggested he was the real chief. 

Aerial Photo of the Protest Site, Khartoum

Many of the SAF’s junior officers and other ranks were sympathetic to the goals of the revolutionaries in the streets, leaving the RSF to clear the anti-military demonstrations. Protesters in Khartoum were attacked with clubs, whips, and live ammunition on May 13, leaving five dead, 77 people with bullet wounds and hundreds more injured. Though eyewitnesses claimed the attackers were RSF men, Hemetti announced on May 20 that 15 attackers had been arrested, with five confessing their responsibility. Attempting to align himself with the demonstrators, Hemetti praised the activities of the revolutionary Alliance for Freedom and Change (Radio Dabanga, May 20).  

The worst was yet to come. On June 3, the RSF massacred over 100 protesters in Khartoum, throwing many of the dead into the Nile. Beatings and murder were not enough for the RSF, which was also alleged to have committed scores of rapes of both men and women during the operation. Some of the bodies recovered from the Nile wore SAF uniforms, with eyewitnesses suggesting some soldiers who had tried to intervene on behalf of the demonstrators were disarmed and killed by the RSF (BBC, June 15; Deutsche Welle, June 9).  

On June 13, TMC spokesman Shams al-Din Kabbashi stated that the decision to clear the protesters was taken on June 2 by the entire TMC after seeking the advice of Sudan’s general prosecutor and chief justice, though he added that there were “abuses” and “deviations from the initial plans” (Sudan Tribune, June 14). However, two days later, a spokesman for the TMC’s Military Investigation Committee accused the media of fabricating Kabbashi’s statement, noting that those responsible for the violence acted “without instructions from the competent authorities” (Sudan Tribune, June 15). 

The actions of the RSF have had repercussions in Darfur, where al-Burhan ordered the camps of withdrawing peacekeepers of the hybrid United Nations/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) to be turned over to the RSF rather than civilian authorities. UNAMID announced on June 15 that it was suspending the further handover of its camps until al-Burhan’s decree was rescinded (Sudan Tribune, June 15, 2019). UN officials reported the killings of 47 people in Darfur over the last three months as well as the looting of houses and livestock by the RSF (Radio Dabanga, June 15). UNAMID’s withdrawal was to be completed in June 2010, but In light of the deteriorating situation, the African Union has now extended UNAMID’s mandate for another 12 months and is urging the UN Security Council to do the same (Radio Dabanga, June 16).  

Conclusion: Playing a Revolutionary Double-Game?  

Amid fears within the TMC that opposition forces may attempt to try the generals for war crimes or disband the army and the RSF, Hemetti warned on June 16 of dark plans by protest leaders and “foreign diplomats” to create chaos in Sudan, adding that “there are plans under preparation targeting me, Hemetti.” The RSF leader also suggested that there were “plans against the tribes of the Nile River,” referring to the politically dominant Arab tribes of northern Sudan, the Danagla, the Ja’alin, and the Sha’iqiya (Sudan Tribune, June 16).  

RSF Patrol in the Deserted Streets of Khartoum

Hemetti and his personal paramilitary are indeed highly unlikely to survive any kind of meaningful regime change or transition to civilian government in Sudan, despite his rather unconvincing attempts to persuade the revolutionaries that he has been with them the whole time. Residents of Khartoum have only to look out their windows to see the empty streets of the capital patrolled by heavily-armed RSF gunmen for confirmation of Hemetti’s true position. Like his mentor al-Bashir, Hemetti has climbed the ladder of power and success, but, like al-Bashir, is now unable to climb back down without risking his own safety and liberty.  


  1. Julie Flint and Alex de Waal: Darfur: A New History of a Long War, Zed Books, London, 2008.
  2. “Border Intelligence Brigade (Al Istikhbarat al Hudud) (AKA Border Guards)” Sudan Human Security Baseline Assessment (HSBA), Small Arms Survey, Geneva, November 2010, http://www.smallarmssurveysudan.org/fileadmin/docs/facts-figures/sudan/darfur/armed-groups/saf-and-allied-forces/HSBA-Armed-Groups-Border-Guards.pdf
  3. Julie Flint, “Beyond ‘Janjaweed’: Understanding the Militias of Darfur,” Small Arms Survey, Geneva, 2009, fn.78, http://www.smallarmssurveysudan.org/fileadmin/docs/working-papers/HSBA-WP-17-Beyond-Janjaweed.pdf
  4. Jérôme Tubiana, “Remote-control Breakdown: Sudanese Paramilitary Forces and Pro-government Militias,” HSBA Issue Brief no. 27, Geneva, Small Arms Survey, April 2017, http://www.smallarmssurveysudan.org/fileadmin/docs/issue-briefs/HSBA-IB-27-Sudanese-paramilitary-forces.pdf
  5. Kumar, Akshaya, and Omer Ismail, “Janjaweed Reincarnate: Sudan’s New Army of War Criminals,” Enough Project, June 2014, https://enoughproject.org/files/JanjaweedReincarnate_June2014.pdf
  6. Jérôme Tubiana, op cit, April 2017.
  7. European Union Delegation to the Republic of Sudan, “EU announces 100 million Euros for Sudan to address irregular migration and forced displacement,” April 6, 2016, https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/050416b_en.pdf [NOTE: Link didn’t open]
  8. Jérôme Tubiana, Clotilde Warin & Gaffar Mohammud Saeneen, “Multilateral Damage: The impact of EU migration policies on central Saharan routes,” CRU Report, September 2018, https://www.clingendael.org/pub/2018/multilateral-damage/3-effects-of-eu-policies-in-sudan/ ; Jérôme Tubiana, op cit, April 2017.

This article was first published in the June 2019 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Militant Leadership Monitor.

Continued Detention of Rebel POWs suggests Sudan’s military rulers are not ready to settle with the Armed Opposition

Andrew McGregor

AIS Special Report

May 31, 2019

Sudan Armed Forces and Rapid Support Forces Operation in South Kordofan (Reuters/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah)

There was much joy in Sudan in the dying hours of the presidency of Omar al-Bashir when the dreaded National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) announced they were releasing all political detainees in the country (SUNA, April 11, 2019). While there were many scenes of elated families greeting detained protesters and opposition figures after their release, some detainees never emerged from Sudan’s grim prisons. The absence of members of the armed opposition who were taken prisoner while fighting to overthrow the Bashir regime raises two important questions: Did the regime change, or only the head-of-state? And what approach will the new Transitional Military Council (TMC) use to deal with the well-armed opposition movements still in the field in Sudan’s western and southern regions?

Prisoners of War?

Only days after the military removed al-Bashir, the TMC chairman, General ‘Abd al-Fatah al-Burhan, was reminded by an opposition delegation that they were still awaiting the fulfillment of his promise to release members of the armed groups (Sudan Tribune, April 14, 2019). Most of these prisoners belong to the major Sudanese armed opposition groups:

  • The Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), a Darfur-based group led by Jibril Ibrahim seeking a more inclusive government that is not almost exclusively derived from the powerful Nile-based Arab tribal groups (the Ja’alin, the Danagla and the Sha’iqiya) that have dominated Sudanese politics since independence in 1956. JEM’s leadership and membership is largely but not exclusively drawn from the Zaghawa of northwestern Darfur. Due to the political protests across the country, JEM declined to resume talks planned talks with the Bashir regime in mid-January, declaring they could not “betray the revolution,” though they also feared the talks would be used as propaganda to preserve the regime (Sudan Tribune, January 13, 2019).
  • The Sudan Liberation Movement/Army – ‘Abd al-Wahid (SLM/A-AW), a group based in the Jabal Marra mountains of Darfur and led by the Paris-based ‘Abd al-Wahid al-Nur. The SLM/A-AW is largely Fur.
  • The Sudan Liberation Movement/Army – Minni Minnawi (SLM/A-MM), a Darfur-based group that has operated out of ungoverned southern Libya for several years as a result of military pressure from the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and a government paramilitary initially formed from former Janjaweed members, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). The leadership and membership is again largely Zaghawa.
  • The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army – North (SPLM/A-N), based in the Nuba Hills of Southern Kordofan and Sudan’s Blue Nile State. Before South Sudan signed a peace agreement with Khartoum in 2005 that would eventually lead to independence in 2011, the SPLM/A as led by Colonel John Garang sought a unified “New Sudan” that would bring the non-Arab majority of Sudan into the central government. With Garang’s death in 2005, South Sudanese separatists gained political and ideological ascendancy, abandoning those parts of the movement still operating in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, both on the northern side of the new border. These parts of the SPLM/A reconstituted themselves as the SPLM/A-North. The movement split in 2017 over leadership differences between ‘Abd al-Aziz al-Hilu (South Kordofan faction) and two other leaders, Malik Agar (Blue Nile faction) and Yasir Arman (then SPLM/A-N secretary-general). Al-Hilu also felt the needs of the Nuba people (who form the majority of the South Kordofan fighters) were not being addressed by the larger leadership (Radio Dabanga, October 23, 2017). South Sudanese president Salva Kiir Mayardit, who continues to struggle to contain a rebellion in South Sudan’s Equatoria region, made efforts to reunite the two SPLM/A-N factions to better negotiate with the TMC after al-Bashir’s overthrow (East African [Nairobi], May 2, 2019). Agar and Arman were both sentenced to death by hanging in absentia along with 15 other members of the SPLM/A-N in March 2014.

The Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF – a coalition bringing together Darfur’s JEM with the two factions of the SPLM/A-N) has declared that the civilian groups discussing the creation of a transitional government are not representative without including the armed opposition, noting the nation’s future security and democratic transition are at risk without their inclusion (Radio Dabanga, April 30, 2019). The armed opposition calls the detainees “prisoners-of-war” (a term never used by the Bashir regime), but admits that, after years of detention in some cases, it is unsure of the condition or whereabouts of many rebel prisoners (Sudan Tribune, April 16, 2019). Four days after Bashir’s overthrow, JEM demanded the immediate release of all “war-related detainees,” warning that their continued detention was “a call for the continuation of the war” that would delay the ability of the Sudanese to “reap the fruits of the revolution” (Radio Dabanga, April 15, 2019).

Last August, the SLM/A-MM complained that one of its leaders, “prisoner of war” ‘Abd al-Salam Muhammad Siddig, had died at Omdurman’s al-Huda prison after torture that resulted in two fractured legs and internal bleeding that proved fatal after medical treatment was withheld. The movement alleged that the prisoners were suffering a “slow death” in close confinement.  Accusing Khartoum of violating the Geneva Convention, the statement reminded authorities that “the right of the prisoners to receive medical treatment and follow-up… is a legal right and not a grant from anyone.” (Radio Dabanga, August 15, 2018).

The JEM Prisoners

The Bashir regime was shaken to its core when scores of JEM vehicles crossed the desert from Darfur to suddenly arrive on the outskirts of the national capital in May 2008. The army largely failed to appear in defense of the regime, and the raiders were engaged in running street battles in Omdurman with police and pro-Bashir paramilitaries. As JEM was finally driven out of the capital after a fierce struggle, some 70 JEM members were captured and sentenced to death. When JEM and several other rebel movements declined to sign the 2011 Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD), the prisoners were unable to avail themselves of Article 60, allowing for the release of prisoners of war (DDPD, p.63, Article 60, subsection 329, May 2011). Though the death sentences were not carried out, the prisoners are alleged to have endured a kind of living death of torture and abuse in cramped and squalid conditions (Radio Dabanga, August 15, 2013; Sudan Tribune, September 8, 2018).

According to JEM, many of the prisoners languished under sentences of death after their 2008 capture in tiny, vermin-ridden cells, with only a daily visit to the toilet and no access to bathing facilities. JEM has charged that the men are prisoners of war entitled to decent conditions by the Geneva Convention (Hudocentre.org, November 16, 2015).

When JEM detainees in North Khartoum’s Kober Prison went on a hunger strike in 2013 to protest their treatment, the Director General of Prisons arrived to deliver a little regime reality to the desperate prisoners: “We’ve got the power, wealth, aircraft, and vehicles that enable us to do whatever we want… It is our right to act any way we want against any person in all of Sudan… If I kill you all nobody would ask me why” (Radio Dabanga, September 1, 2013).

Kober Prison, North Khartoum (AFP)

Many JEM rebels were released from Kober and other Sudanese prisons after al-Bashir issued an edict on March 8, 2017. As well as those taken prisoner in Omdurman, there were others taken in later battles at Goz Dango, Fanaga, Donki Baashim and Kulbus (Radio Dabanga, March 9, 2017). A sentence of death was lifted from 66 detainees and another 193 granted amnesty. However, in October 2018, Khartoum admitted that seven JEM prisoners and 21 SPLM/A-N prisoners were still being held in Omdurman’s al-Huda prison despite the presidential amnesty of March 2017 (Radio Dabanga, October 11, 2018).

One of those released under the amnesty, JEM field commander ‘Abd al-Aziz Ousher, complained that a number of senior JEM commanders taken at Goz Dango in April 2015 had not been freed by the presidential amnesty (Radio Dabanga, March 9, 2017). Some 180 JEM prisoners taken at Goz Dango were transferred to al-Huda prison in Omdurman in January 2016. Unable to leave their cells, 23 contracted tuberculosis, which went untreated (Radio Dabanga, September 5, 2016).

President Omar al-Bashir Arrives in Goz Dango to Celebrate SAF/RSF Victory

A report released on May 30 by the Darfur Bar Association (DBA) says that 235 prisoners belonging to the SLM/A-MM and the SLM/A – Transitional Council (SLM/A-TC, a splinter group of the SLM/A-AW) remain inside al-Huda prison. These prisoners are alleged to have endured “cruel treatment and torture” as well as starvation rations and an absence of medical treatment for tuberculosis and injuries sustained in battle or through torture in captivity (Radio Dabanga, May 30, 2019). These fighters were taken prisoner in a series of running battles against the RSF and SAF in Darfur when the two rebel movements attempted to cross back into Sudan from their temporary bases in southern Libya.

Post-Coup Developments

Following the coup, the TMC quickly declared a ceasefire in the three conflict areas (Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile State), where many rebel groups were already observing a unilateral ceasefire during the protests for fear the regime would make claims the spontaneous protests were actually planned and executed by the armed opposition. That was exactly the approach the regime took under advice from M-Invest, a Russian company with offices in Khartoum operated by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close associate of Russian president Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin. Darfuri students in Khartoum were rounded up and tortured into confessions that they were provocateurs working for both Israel and the Wahid al-Nur’s SLM/A-AW (BBC, April 25, 2019; CNN, April 25, 2019). The regime, however, had scapegoated Darfuri students for all manner of anti-government sentiment for years, so the familiar accusations had little resonance in the streets.

Lieutenant General Muhammad Hamdan Daglo “Hemeti,” TMC deputy chairman and leader of the notorious RSF paramilitary, made the surprising move of thanking ‘Abd al-Aziz al-Hilu and the SPLM-N for extending their unilateral ceasefire, adding (after years of brutal repression by the RSF) that the armed opposition movements were a part of the larger movement responsible for deposing President al-Bashir. According to Daglo, the TMC has made contact with the armed movements, including Daglo’s bitter enemies in the Fur-dominated SPLM/A-AW (Radio Dabanga, May 1, 2019). The existence of such contacts has not been verified by the armed opposition and Daglo’s sudden respect for the rebel movements seems disingenuous.

Musa Hilal and Darfur’s Arab Rebels

Another group that has not benefitted from the general release is composed of former Janjaweed commander Musa Hilal and his relatives and followers who were arrested in November 2017. The nazir (chief) of the Mahamid Arabs of Darfur (a branch of the Northern Rizayqat), Hilal acted as a senior government advisor in Khartoum before a dispute with the regime led to his return to Darfur in 2014. Once home, he began to reorganize the Mahamid members of the Border Guard Force (BGF) into the Sudanese Revolutionary Awakening (Sahwa) Council (SRAC), an anti-regime vehicle for Hilal’s political ambitions. SRAC cleared out the outnumbered SAF garrisons in northwest Darfur and the Jabal Amer goldfields and began to establish its own administration in these areas.

This direct challenge to Khartoum’s authority demanded a response, which came in the form of a massive RSF assault on Hilal’s headquarters in Mistiriyha. Hilal, his sons, three brothers and some 50 supporters were arrested after violent clashes and sent to Khartoum as detainees. [1]

Hilal and a number of imprisoned supporters began a hunger strike on April 25 to protest their continued detention, which, despite the TMC’s commitment to release prisoners of the Bashir regime, has now lasted one and a half years without trial or contact with their families (Radio Dabanga, April 26, 2019). SRAC issued a statement on May 5 calling on the TMC to release all prisoners of war and political detainees in Darfur and Kordofan (Radio Dabanga, May 5, 2019).

Yasir Arman (in white) with SPLM/A-N Commanders (Radio Dabanga)

Yasir Arman Arrives in Khartoum

A “delegation of good intentions” from the SPLM-N Blue Nile faction arrived in Khartoum for talks with the TMC and protest leaders on May 11. SPLM-N Blue Nile deputy chairman Yasir Arman and movement secretary general Ismail Khamis arrived in Khartoum later on May 26 and did not experience any complications at the airport. Arman declared their goal was to “reach a just peace… [and] democracy and citizenship without discrimination and social justice,” while warning the SPLM/A-N would not accept a new military government (Radio Dabanga, May 28 2019). The SPLM/A-N ceasefire has been extended until July 31, unless the TMC chooses to go on the offensive in the meantime (RFI, April 17, 2019).

While waiting for an opportunity to meet TMC representatives, Arman met with US Chargé d’Affaires Steven Koutsis on May 28. This apparently angered the TMC, which ordered Arman to leave the country if he wished to avoid the implementation of his death sentence (Anadolu Agency, May 29, 2019). Arman said he had received no less than five letters from TMC deputy leader Muhammad Hamdan Daglo and one from TMC chairman ‘Abd al-Fatah Burhan demanding his immediate departure from Sudan. Insisting that he had no intention of leaving, Arman described the death sentence hovering over him as “a political ruling par excellence” (Radio Dabanga, May 30, 2019).


The TMC’s warning to Yasir Arman demonstrates that the military council is even less ready to work with the armed opposition than with civilian protest leaders. The plight of the non-Arab POWs who fought for years to remove Bashir is indicative of the enduring elitism of northern Sudan’s Arab population, especially the Nile-based Danagla, Sha’iqiya and Ja’alin tribes. The little-discussed truth of Sudan’s revolution is that many of the pro-democracy demonstrators in Khartoum, like the military, have little interest in the welfare of non-Arab rebels who fought and suffered for years to remove Bashir and the ruling clique. Their plight formed part of Yasir Arman’s agenda for talks in Khartoum, but the TMC’s continuing refusal to even meet with the armed opposition leader suggests the military has little intention of abandoning its anti-insurgency campaigns in Sudan, which provide it with wealth and power at the expense of Sudan’s political and economic development.


[1] See: “Musa Hilal: Darfur’s Most Wanted Man Loses Game of Dare with Khartoum… For Now,” AIS Special Report, December 12, 2017, https://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=4096




Nigeria Seeks Russian Military Aid in its War on Boko Haram

Andrew McGregor

May 8, 2019

Four years ago, Nigerian military sources said a shift to Russian military training and arms supplies was only an “interim measure” after its traditional American and British partners were perceived to lack interest in Nigeria’s fight against Boko Haram (Vanguard [Lagos], September 27, 2014). Now, believing that attitudes in the U.S. and UK are unchanged, Nigeria is requesting Russian assistance of a more lasting form in the fight against terrorists and pirates.

August 2017- Mansur Dan-Ali greets Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (MRA Russia/Twitter)

The request was made by Nigerian defense minister Mansur Dan-Ali at the 8th Moscow “Conference on International Security” on April 24. Dan-Ali, a former brigadier in the Nigerian Army, was appointed defense minister in November 2015. He first proposed Russia as Nigeria’s primary arms supplier in the war against Boko Haram in June 2017 (NAN [Lagos], August 2, 2017).

The minister pointed to Russia’s experience in counter-terrorism and suggested that this experience and help in modernizing Nigeria’s arsenal could help defeat the Boko Haram insurgency:

On the security front, Nigeria counts on Russia’s continued partnership in eliminating the Boko Haram insurgents from our sub-region. We wish to leverage on Russia’s experience in counterterrorism operations to bring this scourge to an end. Military and technical assistance in this respect would be highly appreciated (Vanguard [Lagos], April 24; The Nation [Lagos], April 25).

The success of Russia’s ruthless repression of pirates off the Somali coast has been well noted in Nigeria, where shipping and off-shore oil operations are increasingly threatened by pirates. Dan-Ali emphasized the dire security situation in the Gulf of Guinea, asking for Russian assistance to combat piracy, kidnappings, ship-hijackings and illegal dumping of toxic and radioactive waste (Legit.ng [Lagos], April 25). The most dangerous waters in the world for shipping are no longer off the Somali coast, but rather in the Gulf of Guinea; the minister cited figures from the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) that indicated violent attacks in the Gulf had doubled in 2018 while pirates were now operating in speed boats as far as 100 nautical miles from shore. Since that report was issued, a further 22 attacks occurred in the first quarter of 2019, including all the world’s 21 reported kidnappings of crew members (IMB Piracy Report, January 16; International Crime Services, April 8).

(International Chamber of Commerce)

Nigeria’s relationship with Russia is much less complicated than its relations with the U.S. and Britain, the former colonial power. U.S. interest in Nigeria has waned in recent years with Nigerian oil imports declining steeply as America develops its own energy resources. China and Russia are increasingly seen in Abuja as more appealing, no-questions-asked partners who can provide affordable and effective solutions to Nigeria’s security and development problems. On May 2, the UK foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, indicated that British military support would be available to Nigeria, “but they are a sovereign nation and they have got to want our help” (Premium Times [Abuja], May 2).

Having outlined Nigeria’s desperate need for help, Dan-Ali surprisingly took the opportunity to brightly proclaim that Nigerian and MNJTF operations had “overwhelmed” Boko Haram, leaving the leadership “decimated” (Legit.ng [Lagos], April 25).  Despite the Nigerian Army’s repeated claims of imminent victory, villagers and forest workers continue to be slaughtered by Boko Haram and the Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP – the movement split in mid-2016).

Boko Haram commander Abubakr Shekau (right) in front of a captured Nigerian APC.

Only three days after Dan-Ali’s sunny assessment, ISWAP fighters overran a Nigerian Army outpost in Borno State on April 27, driving survivors into the bush and adding the captured arms and vehicles to their arsenal. The militants attacked using 12 technicals (pick-up trucks fitted with a heavy machine gun), three previously captured armored personnel carriers and dozens of gunmen on motorcycles operating on the flanks (This Day [Lagos], April 28; Defensepost.com [Johannesburg], April 27). Hundreds of Nigerian soldiers have perished in 22 attacks on military posts in the last four years (Guardian [Lagos], April 29).

Nigeria has had military interactions with Russia in the recent past. When Nigerian attempts to buy U.S. Cobra attack helicopters were rebuffed by Washington in 2014, Nigeria turned to Russia, which had no problems selling them 21 Mi-35 attack helicopters and 11 Mi-17 utility helicopters. Nigeria ordered a further 12 Russian Mi-35M attack helicopters in September 2016 (NAN [Lagos], August 2, 2017).  Russian media reported plans to sell Nigeria ten Sukhoi Su-30 multirole fighters in mid-2017, but the sale does not appear to have gone through (Sputnik, June 26, 2017).

Twelve hundred carefully-picked Nigerian security personnel drawn from the armed forces, the police and the Department of State Services (DSS – domestic intelligence) were sent to Russia for advanced anti-insurgency training in 2014 (Vanguard [Lagos], September 27, 2014). The training was apparently meant to be secret – the Nigerian defense ministry only acknowledged the program when the last contingent of 400 security personnel was photographed leaving for Russia at Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport (Defenceweb, [Johannesburg], October 23, 2014).

Nigerian Army chief-of-staff Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai has indicated that Nigeria will soon receive a shipment of advanced military hardware from an un-named country (This Day [Lagos], April 25). As the purchase includes technical training and ongoing maintenance support, Russia would seem to be the most likely point of origin for this shipment.

In the economic realm, Dan-Ali also requested Russian assistance in the construction of pipelines, railways and a nuclear power plant. Nigeria has been in talks with Russian state-owned Rosatom over the development of two nuclear reactors in Nigeria since 2015. Enriched uranium was recently removed from a research reactor by an international team in Nigeria’s Kaduna State over fears the material could be seized by terrorists (This Day [Lagos], April 25).

Meanwhile, despite these developments, Nigeria’s embassy in Moscow is unlikely to entertain Russian visitors any time soon; its unpaid water bill has forced a supply cut-off to the embassy, forcing diplomats to continually borrow water from neighboring embassies to flush the toilets (Punch [Lagos], April 3). Nigeria’s inability to even maintain important foreign embassies is indicative of Nigeria’s ongoing financial crisis. Russia does not need Nigerian oil and has little interest in other Nigerian products. The price of Russian military aid could well be a military base on the Nigerian coast close to some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

This article first appeared in the May 8, 2019 issue of the Eurasia Daily Monitor


Who Attacked the Libyan National Army in Southern Libya?

Andrew McGregor

AIS Special Report

May 4, 2019

The attackers emerged out of the desert darkness at dawn on May 4, quickly springing on a Libyan National Army (LNA) training base near Sabha, the capital of Libya’s southwestern Fazzan region. A firefight of several hours ensued before the attackers melted back into the desert. The number of dead LNA troops range from seven to 11; one soldier was beheaded, another showed signs of burning and the others all appeared to have perished from close-range execution-style shots to the head or chest. The dead belonged to the 160th Battalion, part of the loose alliance of militias that compose the LNA under the command of “Field Marshal” Khalifa Haftar. The former CIA asset and Qaddafi-era general has tried to secure the Fazzan in recent months as part of his efforts to expel the UN-recognized government in Tripoli, arrest his political and military rivals, and seize power before elections scheduled for later this year.

An LNA spokesman blamed the attack on an unlikely combination of Islamic State terrorists and Chadian mercenaries operating in south Fazzan. The Islamic State issued a claim of responsibility that insisted 16 soldiers had been killed or wounded, describing the victims as “apostates” who had fallen to the “soldiers of the caliphate” (al-Arabiya, May 4, 2019; The Address [Benghazi], May 4, 2019; Reuters, May 4, 2016). Chadian mercenaries and exiled Chadian rebels (often the same thing in southern Libya) have worked for both the PC/GNA and Haftar’s LNA, but are typically not jihadists and are not known to collaborate with the Islamic State.  The Islamic State claimed an earlier attack on the LNA near Sabha on April 11, insisting six soldiers had been killed. The LNA confirmed the attack but claimed to have suffered no casualties (Reuters, April 11, 2019).

Al-Sumud Front Leader Salah Badi

However, another claim of joint responsibility for this latest attack was issued by two militias operating in Tripoli but originally from the northwestern city of Misrata. The two include the 166th Battalion led by Muhammad Omar Hassan and the Sumud Islamist militia led by warlord Salah Badi, the subject of UN sanctions. The 166th Battalion supports the GNA, but, until recently, Badi’s al-Sumud opposed it, favoring, not Haftar and the Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HoR – a rival government to the PC/GNA with ties to Haftar), but yet another rival government, Khalifa Ghwell’s Government of National Salvation (GNS).

Now, with Haftar’s LNA battling to force their way into the southern suburbs of Tripoli, al-Sumud appears to have joined in a common cause against Haftar, who is widely disliked in the capital. The militias denied carrying out any beheadings and claimed that the LNA was using the Islamic State as a tool in its propaganda (The Address [Benghazi], May 4, 2019; Anadolu Agency, May 4, 2019).

The attack may have been designed to exploit an LNA weakness, as Haftar’s southern-based forces move north to bolster the LNA assault on the national capital. With the LNA assault bogged down in Tripoli’s southern outskirts, there is increasing pressure on Haftar to transfer forces to the Tripoli battlefront. If defeated, Haftar is unlikely to be able to take another shot at replacing Libya’s UN-backed administration, the Presidency Council/Government of National Accord (PC/GNA).

Cauldron of the Wau al-Namus Volcano in the Haruj Region

Haftar’s need for troops in the offensive on Tripoli has already had tragic consequences as Islamic State forces mount violent assaults on desert communities abandoned by the LNA. Al-Fuqaha, 100 km north of Sabha, has been the target of two carefully orchestrated attacks since last October. With little in the way of defense after the most recent attack in April, the town is quickly clearing out, leaving it open to IS occupation (Middle East Eye, April 10, 2019). Al-Fuqaha is on the edge of central Libya’s forbidding Haruj volcanic field, a challenging environment of 150 dormant volcanoes and their blackened lava flows. The region was being used for shelter and refuge by Chadian mercenaries last year and it appears that Islamic State forces may now be using the same region.

There are signs the Islamic State may be trying to take advantage of the turmoil in Tripoli; on April 13, the Rada Special Deterrence Force (a militia acting as Tripoli’s unofficial Islamist police under ‘Abd al-Ra’uf Kara) arrested a Libyan IS member who had arrived from Sabha with the alleged intention of carrying out terrorist acts in the capital (Libya Observer, April 14, 2019).

General ‘Ali Kanna Sulayman

The LNA launched its military offensive in Fazzan in mid-January with the stated goals of driving out jihadists and bandits, securing oil facilities, ending vandalism of stations of the Man-Made River (MMR) project and ending uncontrolled migrant flows across Libya’s southern border. In response, PC/GNA leader Fayez al-Sirraj appointed Tuareg Lieutenant General ‘Ali Kanna Sulayman the commander of the Sabha military zone on February 6 (Libya Observer, February 6, 2019). A former supporter of Mu’ammar Qaddafi during the 2011 Libyan Revolution, ‘Ali Kanna is a fierce opponent of Haftar and is seeking the unification of the armed Tuareg and Tubu opposition to the Cyrenaïcan warlord. [1] ‘Ali Kanna is also believed to have strong ties to Qatar, which, along with Turkey, supports the PC/GNA against the LNA and its Egyptian, Saudi and UAE supporters.

Whether IS or PC/GNA-aligned forces carried out the attack (both detest Haftar and are in need of a victory somewhere in Libya), the Libyan south will present a security threat in Haftar’s rear if he is forced to further reinforce his stalled offensive in the northwest with troops now tasked with securing the south.


[1] For ‘Ali Kanna, see: “General Ali Kanna Sulayman and Libya’s Qaddafist Revival,” AIS Special Report, August 8, 2017, https://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=3999