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.

Notes:

  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

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.  

Notes 

  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.

“Old Wine in Old Bottles?” A Security Q and A on Post-Coup Sudan

Andrew McGregor

April 19, 2019 Yasir Arman (Reuters)

Veteran opposition politician Yasir Arman called the April 11 military coup in Sudan nothing more than “old wine in old bottles.” Arman suggested it had preserved “the political and economic structures of the old system,” the military-Islamist alliance that has ruled Sudan since an Islamist-backed military coup brought Brigadier Omar al-Bashir to power in 1989 (Sudan Tribune, April 12). Al-Bashir’s regime was based on three pillars: Islamism, military governance and Arab supremacy.

Despite the coup, demonstrations and sit-ins continue at military facilities beyond the capital, in places such as Port Sudan, al-Gedaref, Kadugli, al-Obeid, and camps for the internally displaced in Darfur (Radio Dabanga, April 16).

Lieutenant General ‘Abd al-Fatah al-Burhan (Daily Nation)

The coup leaders have formed a Transitional Military Council (TMC) under Lieutenant General ‘Abd al-Fatah al-Burhan, who commanded Sudanese forces in Yemen, where he formed ties to the Saudi military and its Gulf allies. Most recently he was Inspector General of the Sudanese Army. Al-Burhan replaced the first leader of the TMC, Lieutenant General Muhammad Ahmad Awad ibn Awf, who lasted less than 24 hours. Ibn Awf is a prominent Islamist and al-Bashir loyalist who has worked closely with Darfur’s Janjaweed militias (al-Jazeera, April 20). Under U.S. sanctions for his activities in Darfur, Ibn Awf was unacceptable to both Washington and the protesters. The former chief of Sudan’s Joint Staff, Lieutenant General Kamal ‘Abd al-Maruf al-Mahi (a leading Islamist suspected of having political ambitions), was relieved of his post as deputy chief of the TMC at the same time General Ibn Awf was replaced. [1]

The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), a leading force in the demonstrations, is demanding nothing less than a civilian government (Asharq al-Aswat, April 13). The SPA is part of the Alliance for Freedom and Change, which includes the leftist National Consensus Forces and Nidea Sudan, a Paris-based group including opposition politicians and the leaders of armed movements (Middle East Online, April 16). The army is unlikely to clean house, which will continue to frustrate those demanding significant change.

What is al-Bashir’s fate?

Al-Bashir and his two brothers have been moved to the notorious Khobar Prison in Khartoum North (al-Jazeera, April 17). The military council has stated it will prosecute al-Bashir inside Sudan (APA News, April 12). The military has been repeatedly purged until the officer corps consists mostly of men whose fortunes and views are closely aligned with the ex-president’s. These officers may seek to send al-Bashir to a safe haven outside Sudan and avoid a nasty and public prosecution of regime misdoings. Uganda has said it is willing to consider offering asylum to al-Bashir (Monitor [Kampala], April 16).

Al-Bashir still faces two ICC arrest warrants for “massive human rights violations” including war crimes and genocide. However, the ICC lacks the means to detain the former president, and 33 nations (including China and Russia) have ignored the warrants by allowing al-Bashir to make visits to their countries. The ICC is demanding that the new government in Khartoum must surrender al-Bashir as well as four other individuals wanted on charges related to the Darfur conflict, including NCP leader Ahmad Muhammad Harun, Janjaweed leader ‘Ali Muhammad ‘Ali ‘Abd al-Rahman (aka ‘Ali Kushayb), former minister of defense Abd al-Rahim Muhammad Hussayn and Darfur rebel ‘Abdallah Banda Abakr Nourain (Al-Ahram [Cairo], April 12; for Harun, see AIS Special Report, March 3 ). The military council will not take action on these demands and it would require a massive and unprecedented power shift in Sudan for a future civilian government to surrender these individuals for ICC prosecutions.

What happens to the National Congress Party (NCP)?

Recognizing the hold the ruling NCP had over the Sudanese political system, the SPA has demanded its dissolution and the arrest of its leaders. The TMC has said NCP representatives will not be part of the transitional government (Sudan Tribune, April 15).

What happens to the Rapid Support Force (RSF)?

The RSF (Quwat al-Da’m al-Seri), was created by the NISS in 2013 to absorb Janjaweed gunmen into a more manageable unit with a central control (Terrorism Monitor, May 30 2014). The intent was to deploy the RSF as a counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism force composed mostly of Darfur Arabs. The unit is led by Muhammad Hamdan Daglo “Hemeti” a member of the Mahariya branch of the Northern Rizayqat Arabs of Darfur. Daglo is now the deputy chief of the TMC.

Ahmad al-Harun, Omar al-Bashir and Muhammad Daglo Hamdan

Though reviled by many Sudanese for its methods, the RSF has had some success in counter-insurgency operations in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile State. It operates in large numbers along the border with Libya, where it hunts Darfuri rebels and interrupts the flow of illegal migrants from east Africa through Sudan to Libya and on into Europe. It has also been deployed in the Saudi-led war in Yemen, where Daglo served under al-Burhan, who may now rely on the RSF’s support.

There have been calls in Sudan to disband the RSF since its creation and its use of violence in the streets of Khartoum to repress the anti-regime demonstrations has not made it any more popular.

The appointment of Hamdan as deputy leader of the TMC does not indicate major change in the power structure and will anger the Darfur rebel movements who accuse him of ordering atrocities. Nonetheless, Daglo has been meeting with US and UK diplomats as the TMC’s representative (Anadolou Agency [Ankara], April 14).

What happens to the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS)?

The SPA and many demonstrators have called for the dissolution of the much-feared NISS (Jihaz al-Amn al-Watani wa’l-Mukhabarat) and the regime’s paramilitaries, such as the RSF, the Popular Defense Forces (PDF) and the Haras al-Hudud (Border Guards) (Reuters, April 16). NISS director Salah ‘Abdallah Muhammad Salah (Salah Gosh) resigned on April 13 but was not detained. He was replaced by Lieutenant General Abu Bakr Mustafa, putting the intelligence agency under military control for now. (Reuters, April 14; AFP/France24, April 14).

Ex-NISS Director Salah Gosh (al-Arabiya)

Gosh was NISS director from 2004 to 2009 but was suspected of plotting against al-Bashir in 2012. He was brought back into the fold in February 2018, when he was once again made chief of the NISS to subdue dissent. The NISS used rubber bullets, tear gas and live ammunition to disperse the demonstrators (Al-Jazeera, April 8). Roving squads of agents in pick-up trucks seized individuals and took them away to “ghost houses” where their unrecorded detention usually included torture. The NISS announced the release of all political prisoners on April 11, but there are reports that many protesters remain in detention (Radio Dabanga, April 16).

The snipers who continually took shots at demonstrators from buildings outside the army’s compound in Khartoum were believed to be NISS agents who defied the army by engaging in firefights with soldiers (Middle East Monitor, April 9). The clashes were indicative of the serious differences the NISS has with the military. The NISS was given extraordinary and extrajudicial powers to act as al-Bashir’s personal protection and enforcement unit. The opportunities for enrichment presented by NISS membership created a sore point with the poorly paid military.

There is no consensus in the opposition as to what should be done with the NISS. The Islamist Popular Congress Party (PCP), led by Dr. ‘Ali al-Haj, is calling for the dissolution of the NISS and the transfer of its responsibilities to the police (Radio Dabanga, April 16). However, the Umma Party of two-time Sudanese prime minister Sadiq al-Mahdi and the center-left Sudanese Congress Party (SCP) of Omar Yusuf al-Digair have called for only a change in the NISS leadership (Sudan Tribune, April 16).

The U.S. will watch Salah Gosh’s fate carefully – the notorious NISS director cooperated closely with the CIA on counter-terrorism issues and was even welcomed in Washington.

Will armed opposition continue?

Since independence, Sudan has been dominated by three powerful riverine tribes from Sudan’s north, the Ja’alin, Danagla and Sha’iqiya (al-Bashir is Ja’alin). This has created enormous internal tensions as Khartoum tries to control restive non-Arab ethnic groups in guerrilla-friendly regions such as Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile State. While a host of armed opposition groups operate in Darfur, the armed opposition in Blue Nile State and South Kordofan consists of two factions of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), led by Malik Agar and ‘Abd al- Aziz al-Hilu respectively (for al-Hilu, see MLM, July 2011).

Most of the major rebel movements have refused to engage with the regime for years and appear ready to wait for a new civilian government to renew negotiations, likely under AU mediation.

Malik Agar, leader of the rebellion in Blue Nile State (Sudan Tribune)

Al-Burhan’s appointment as head of the TMC has angered many in Darfur, who accuse him of being “the architect of the genocide” in Darfur and regard his new role as “a play of the Islamists to retain power” (Radio Dabanga, April 15). Burhan is well known in Darfur for his threats to exterminate the Fur people. A leading Darfur rebel, ‘Abd al-Wahid al-Nur (Fur), said that the Sudan “we dream of, cannot come through these racists like ‘Abd al-Fatah al-Burhan, Awad Ibn Awf, Omar al-Bashir and their ilk” (Sudan Tribune, April 16).

‘Abd al-Aziz al-Hilu, leader of the rebellion in South Kordofan (Nuba Reports)

The South Kordofan and Blue Nile factions of the SPLM/A-N declared a unilateral three-month ceasefire on April 17 to give the military “a chance for a peaceful and quick transfer of power to civilians” (al-Jazeera, April 17). Nonetheless, there are reports of escalating violence in Darfur, where hundreds of thousands of displaced indigenous Africans see an opportunity to take revenge on regime associates and reclaim land seized by the regime and given to Arab settlers, many from outside Sudan (al-Jazeera, April 17).

Darfur’s rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) has demanded the release of all war-related detainees from Darfur, Kordofan and Blue Nile State, saying that a refusal to release them “Is a call for the continuation of the war” (Radio Dabanga, April 15).

What about the Army?

The Army has invited the opposition groups to nominate a new civilian prime minister, but the question is whether the PM would serve under or above the TMC, which is unlikely to relinquish control until arrangements have been made for leading military and security figures to make a post-coup “soft-landing.”

During the demonstrations outside military headquarters in Khartoum, low-ranking troops and junior officers emerged at times from the military headquarters to interact with the demonstrators or offer refuge from NISS snipers. Al-Burhan listened to the demonstrators, but he and other officers will view their ongoing role as preventing the disintegration of the country, by whatever means necessary.

The military says it is only interested in holding the defense and interior ministries, which could remove the security sector from civilian oversight and bring the police and intelligence services under military control (Africanews, April 15).

Can the Islamists use the coup to their advantage?

Much of the Islamist political elite has been put under arrest, including al-Bashir loyalist and former prime minister Muhammad Tahir Ayala, leading NCP member Awad al-Jaz and two former vice-presidents, Berri Hassan Saleh and ‘Ali ‘Uthman Muhammad Taha, the latter a powerful Islamist who can call on his own supporters for political muscle. It should be recalled, however, that such arrests are often for show – the Islamist behind al-Bashir’s 1989 coup, Dr. Hassan al-Turabi, was sent to prison for several months after al-Bashir’s coup 1989 to disguise the Islamist nature of the new regime.

‘Ali al-Hajj, leader of the Islamist Popular Congress Party (PCP) (Alleastafrica)

The military has excluded Islamist parties from talks on Sudan’s political future. Islamists and supporters of the old regime are painting the demonstrators as secularists intent on attacking Sudan’s traditional Islamic faith. (Middle East Monitor, April 9). The dissolution of the NCP would weaken the Islamist grip on Sudan, but the movement has proved to be highly resilient in the face of setbacks.

Besides hosting Osama bin Laden and his followers in the 1990s (they were eventually expelled), religious extremists outside of Khartoum’s control were kept largely in check through most of al-Bashir’s rule. Neighboring states fear a new regime might allow extremists to operate in Sudan, whether deliberately or through negligence. According to an Egyptian government source, Cairo “cannot afford a leadership emerging in Libya or Sudan that tolerates, or even worse condones, militant Islamic activity. This is why we… are keeping a close eye on any possible transition of power in Sudan” (Al-Ahram [Cairo], April 10).

What of the Economic Crisis?

The security situation in Sudan cannot be eased until the uncertainty created by the ongoing economic crisis is resolved. The problems are many, and include a declining currency, raging inflation, massive unemployment, inability to replace oil revenues lost with the separation of South Sudan and the cost of fighting endless rebellions in the provinces.

If the general staff possesses any economic skills, they have yet to be revealed. Unfortunately, most of the TMC’s attention will be drawn to carefully watching their colleagues and rivals for signs of a counter-coup, a persistent danger in these conditions. The generals will also be concerned for their own future; as indicated by their demand for the defense and interior ministry portfolios in a future civilian government, they will work hard to ease their own safe transition into a new regime.

Note

1.The TMC, as announced by General al-Burhan, consists of:

General ‘Abd al-Fatah al-Burhan, President

Lieutenant General Muhammad Hamdan Daglo “Hemeti,” Vice President

Lieutenant General Shams al-Din Kabbashi Ibrahim Shanto, member and spokesman

General Omar Zine al-‘Abdin Muhammad al-Shaykh, member

General Jalal al-Din al-Shaykh al-Tayib, member

General Mustafa Muhammad Mustafa Ahmad, member

General Yassir ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Atta, member

Airforce General Salah ‘Abd al-Khalig Said ‘Ali, member

Police General al-Tayib Babikir ‘Ali Fadl, memberRear

Admiral Engineer Ibrahim Jabir Ibrahim, member (Sudan Tribune, April 16).

This article first appeared in the April 22, 2019 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.

Musa Hilal: Darfur’s Most Wanted Man Loses Game of Dare with Khartoum… For Now

Andrew McGregor

AIS Special Report, December 12, 2017

Khartoum is using an Arab paramilitary under the direct command of President Omar al-Bashir to clean up resistance to its rule amongst Darfur’s northern Rizayqat Arabs, once the core of the notorious Janajaweed militias that wreaked havoc on the region’s non-Arab population in the 2000s.

Shaykh Musa Hilal (Sudan Tribune)

The campaign has included the violent arrest of Shaykh Musa Hilal Abdalla, a member of the Um Jalul clan of the Mahamid Arabs. Hilal is the nazir (chief) of the Mahamid, a branch of the northern Rizayqat tribal group (the northern Rizayqat includes the Mahamid, Mahariya, and Ireiqat groups). Once the leader of the Janjaweed, Hilal was arrested on November 26, 2017 by the government’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF – al-Quwat al-Da’m al-Sari) after spending the last few years building a fiefdom in northern Darfur funded by illegal gold mining. Hilal remains subject to travel and financial sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council in 2006 in connection to his leadership of the Janjaweed.

Also arrested in the RSF raid were Hilal’s sons Habib, Fathi and Abd al-Basit, three brothers and a number of aides. At the time of the RSF’s arrival in his hometown of Mistiriyha, Hilal was still receiving condolences from visitors after the death of his mother (Radio Dabanga, November 27, 2017).

RSF Commander Muhammad Hamdan Daglo “Hemetti” (Anadolu Agency)

Commanding the RSF forces was Hilal’s cousin, Muhammad Hamdan Daglo “Hemetti,” a member of the Mahariya branch of the northern Rizayqat and Hilal’s former Janjaweed deputy. Daglo is leading the government’s six-month disarmament campaign in Darfur, intended to confiscate weapons held by civilians, rebel groups and government-controlled militias such as the Popular Defense Forces (PDF) and the Central Reserve Police (CRP).

The clashes began when a RSF disarmament unit was ambushed near Mistiriyha, killing nine. Hilal’s men then attacked and killed RSF Brigadier Abd al-Rahim Gumma when he arrived to investigate the ambush (Sudan Tribune, November 27, 2017). The RSF has deployed 10,000 men and an armored regiment in North Darfur to deal with the threat posed by Hilal and his followers (Sudan Tribune, November 5, 2017).

Terrible conditions were described in Mistiriyha after the raid, with mass arrests of male residents, the flight of women and children to barren hills nearby without water or food and bodies left to decompose in the streets (Sudan Tribune, November 29, 2017). Government sources admitted the loss of between nine-to thirteen men with 35 others wounded (Sudan Tribune, November 29). Reports of heavy civilian losses were denied by General ‘Ali Muhammad Salim, who claimed only a single child was hit by a stray bullet (Sudan News Agency, November 29, 2017).

The list of weapons seized from Hilal’s forces included 25 “technicals” (Land Cruisers mounted with heavy machine guns), a SAM-9 anti-aircraft system and a variety of “Dushkas” (the Russian-made DShK 108mm machine gun) and other automatic weapons commonly found in the region (Sudan Tribune, December 5, 2017).

Daglo insisted the arrest of an Algerian with “sophisticated communications equipment” and several other foreign nationals at Mistiriyha confirmed “the participation of foreign parties in destabilizing the security [of] Darfur” (Radio Dabanga, November 27, 2017; November 30, 2017; AFP, November 27, 2017).

Hilal was the official commander of the government’s Border Guard Force (BGF), once a small camel-mounted unit that was greatly expanded as a means of absorbing former Janjaweed into more tightly controlled government structures. Hilal spent several years in Khartoum as a senior government advisor before a dispute with the regime led to his return to Darfur in 2014. To further his own personal and tribal agenda, Hilal began to transform the BGF into the Sudanese Revolutionary Awakening (Sahwa) Council (SRAC). Composed largely of members of Hilal’s Mahamid clan, SRAC began to drive over-stretched government forces from northwest Darfur and established administrations in the region’s major centers and at the artisanal gold fields of Jabal Amer.

RSF Officers after a Raid on the Gold Mines at Jabal Amer (Radio Dabanga)

The Defense Ministry announced its intention to integrate the BGF into the RSF under Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) command in July 2017. The decision was immediately opposed by Hilal, who had no intention of serving under his former Janjaweed lieutenant and tribal inferior, General Muhammad Hamdan Daglo “Hemetti.” [1]

A major quarrel broke out between Hilal and what he described as “these Nile Valley Arabs,” the Ja’ailin, Danagla and Sha’iqiya tribes that have controlled Sudan since independence. Hilal announced his refusal to cooperate with the government’s disarmament campaign and accused Daglo and his patron, Vice-President Hasabo Abd al-Rahman, of siphoning off millions of dollars intended for the Sudanese treasury in return for the deployment of RSF fighters in Saudi Arabia’s military campaign in Yemen (al-Jazeera, September 10, 2017). [2]

As commander of the Border Guards (part of the SAF), Musa Hilal was flown to Khartoum for questioning by military intelligence, to be followed by a military trial for turning Mistiriyha “into a hideout for fugitives and outlaws,” according to Minister of State for Defense General ‘Ali Muhammad Salim (AFP, November 29, 2017). Fifty Border Guards were taken prisoner, with 30 sent immediately to Khartoum and the remainder to follow (Sudan Tribune, November 30, 2017).

The Northern Rizayqat – Defections and More Arrests

Hilal’s detention followed the arrest earlier in November of former Border Guards Lieutenant Colonel ‘Ali Abdullah Rizqallah “Savanna.” Rizqallah (Mahamid clan of the Rizayqat) split from the Border Guards in August to form his own Sudan Army Movement – Revolutionary Forces (SAM-RF) after Khartoum declared its intention to merge the Border Guards into the RSF. The commander was arrested after two days of clashes with the RSF around Korma (12 km west of al-Fashir) and in the area south of Kutum (Radio Dabanga, November 10, 2017). Rizqallah was removed to Khartoum for questioning and may face charges carrying the death penalty (Anadolu Agency, November 12, 2017).

Lieutenant Colonel ‘Ali Abdullah Rizqallah “Savana” after his capture (Radio Dabanga)

The RSF claimed a week earlier that it had absorbed some 300 SAM-RF fighters after they defected from Rizqallah’s movement with their weapons and vehicles (Sudan Tribune, November 4, 2017; November 12, 2017; Radio Dabanga, November 5, 2017). Rizqallah is reported to have feuded with General Daglo’s Mahariya clan, responding to a 2016 ambush by Mahariya gunmen with an attack on the home of a Mahariya National Security and Intelligence Service (NISS) colonel and governor of East Darfur that killed two NISS agents. [3] More recently, the RSF claimed to have repelled a SAM-RF attack on the North Darfur city of Kutum (Sudan Tribune, November 4, 2017).

Three days after the RSF assault on Mistiriyha, Adam Khatir Yusuf, leader of the Awlad Eid clan of the Rizayqat, died in a medical facility belonging to Sudan’s security services. The tribal leader was wounded while in Mistiriyha to offer condolences to Musa Hilal and was seen in a poor and bloodied condition being taken off a plane in Khartoum. His family claimed that Adam Khatir died while undergoing torture by military intelligence (Radio Dabanga, November 29, 2017). RSF commander Daglo claimed Adam Khatir had deceived them regarding the possibility of acting as a mediator between the RSF and Hilal: “We thought he [could] serve as a good-faith mediator, but unfortunately we were surprised to see him carrying a gun and fighting with Musa Hilal” (Sudan Tribune, November 29, 2017).

On November 26, the RSF announced the capture of SRAC spokesman Harun Mahmud Madikheir south of Mistiriyha where he was reported to be on his way to Chad with his bodyguards (Radio Dabanga, November 27, 2017).

Government security forces have also raided camps for internally-displaced persons (IDPs) in Darfur as part of the disarmament campaign. President al-Bashir (a Ja’alin Arab) has declared his intent to empty the camps over the objections of the UN and the African Union and Darfuri rebel groups claim the disarmament efforts are just a pretext to clear them of IDPs (AFP, November 21, 2017; Sudan Tribune, September 24, 2017).

Conclusion

Khartoum must still deal carefully with Hilal; there are many members of his Mahamid clan in the RSF who could turn against the government and he can describe the exact type and level of involvement of many leading Sudanese politicians and officials in the ethnic cleansing of Darfur. Al-Bashir himself is subject to International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrants issued for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity in Darfur. Hilal has been in contact with rebel movements looking to integrate Arab groups into the ongoing rebellion. The former Janjaweed leader may also be able to call on powerful friends beyond Darfur’s borders – Khartoum believes he has been in contact with the commander of Libya’s “Libyan National Army (LNA),” Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. Hilal is as well the father-in-law of Chad’s Zaghawa president Idriss Déby Itno, a former foe of al-Bashir.

SLM/A-MM Rebel Commander Minni Minawi (Radio Dabanga)

Hilal’s arrest has also met with internal opposition. Old enemy Minni Minawi, leader of a largely Zaghawa rebel movement and current chairman of the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) rebel coalition, denounced the government’s disarmament campaign for inciting a new round of violence in Darfur and called for the immediate release of Hilal and his sons.  He further described the alleged RSF killings of women and children in Mistiriyha as “a crime against humanity” (Sudan Tribune, November 29, 2017). The disarmament campaign has also been condemned as nothing but a new war in the name of disarmament by the Islamist opposition Popular Congress Party (PCP) and the still-influential Sudanese Communist Party (SCP) (Radio Dabanga, November 29, 2017).

In Sudan, prosecutions and detentions depend a great deal upon the importance of the individual to the regime’s tribal relations, his own connections to leading members of the regime, or his future value to the regime. Hilal was previously imprisoned in 2002 on charges of inciting ethnic violence, but was released the nest year when the regime needed a leader for  an Arab supremacist militia that would punish Darfur’s non-Arabs for their resistance to the government – the Janjaweed. With few political cards to play in Darfur and influence with the region’s Arab tribes in a state of decline, Khartoum is likely to hang on to Hilal as a potential future asset, however uncomfortable his stay may be made in the meantime.

NOTES

  1. For a detailed account of Musa Hilal’s resistance to the disarmament campaign and conflict with the RSF, see: Andrew McGregor, “Why the Janjaweed Legacy Prevents Khartoum from Disarming Darfur,” AIS Special Report, October 15, 2017, https://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=4027
  2. For the RSF’s campaign in Yemen, see: Nicholas A. Heras, “Sudan’s Controversial Rapid Support Forces Bolster Saudi Efforts in Yemen,” Terrorism Monitor, October 27, 2017, https://jamestown.org/program/sudans-controversial-rapid-support-forces-bolsters-saudi-efforts-yemen/
  3. Jérôme Tubiana, “Remote-Control Breakdown: Sudanese Paramilitary Forces and Pro-Government Militias,” Small Arms Survey, May 4, 2017, http://www.css.ethz.ch/en/services/digital-library/articles/article.html/571cdc5a-4b5b-417e-bd22-edb0e3050428

Why the Janjaweed Legacy Prevents Khartoum from Disarming Darfur

Andrew McGregor

AIS Special Report, October 15, 2017

Ten thousand members of Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF – al-Quwat al-Da’m al-Sari) have been transferred from Kordofan to North Darfur to help implement a mandatory disarmament campaign in the region. Almost exclusively Arab in composition, the RSF will attempt to disarm not only non-Arab rebel forces still in the field, but also Arab elements of the government’s Border Guard Force (BGF) that are in near rebellion and nomadic tribesmen who rely on their weapons to protect their herds from thieves and predators.

Sudan Armed Forces Armor in Darfur (Nuba Reports)

Both the RSF and the BGF are products of Khartoum’s efforts to make the infamous and internationally reviled “Janjaweed” disappear. Absorbing these ill-disciplined Arab militias into better defined government formations helped support a government narrative that the Janjaweed were not government-backed marauders, but rather unaffiliated bandits that had been removed from Darfur through the efforts of the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF). In theory, transforming these militias into salaried employees of the state would bring them under tighter state control at a time when many Janjaweed and their commanders were beginning to have second thoughts about having sacrificed their reputation in return for empty promises from Khartoum. In practice, the RSF has transformed itself into a border control force reducing migration flows to Europe with ample funding from the European Union, while the BGF has evolved into a new formation, the Sudanese Revolutionary Awakening (“Sahwa”) Council (SRAC), which has slipped from government control with the help of enormous profits from its domination of artisanal gold mining in northwestern Darfur.

Both RSF and BGF are composed of members of the semi-nomadic Abbala (camel-raising) tribes of northern Darfur, the main source of Janjaweed manpower after the ongoing Darfur rebellion began in 2003. Some of the Abbala tribes, including the northern Rizayqat, had not been allotted specific lands for their use by the old Fur Sultanate (c. 1600-1916) or the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium administration (1916-1956).

Darfur (Human Rights Watch)

While customary arrangements between the semi-nomadic Arabs and sedentary non-Arab groups regarding land-use and migration routes continued into the independence period, these accommodations began to fall apart in the 1980s as drought and an encroaching desert placed new pressures on traditional systems. Possessing useful pastures became essential for the pastoralist Arabs, but after centuries of land allotments by Fur Sultans (the feudal hakura system) and their colonial successors, there was no unclaimed land to be had; dispossessing others was the only means of establishing a new dar, or tribal homeland.

The Baqqara (cattle-raising) Arabs of southern Darfur, whose dar-s were legally and traditionally defined, had little involvement with the depredations of the Janjaweed. Unfortunately for the Baqqara, this distinction is little understood outside of Sudan. It is also important to note that not all the Abbala tribes were involved with the Janjaweed; the Janjaweed was primarily drawn from sections of the northern Rizayqat (who were much affected by lack of land-title) and elements of Arab groups from Chad and Niger who had migrated to Darfur with the encouragement of the Khartoum regime, which suggested they carve out their own land-holdings from territory belonging to non-Arab tribes the regime viewed as supporters of the rebellion.

The progress of Khartoum’s disarmament campaign will have important consequences for the future of the Darfur rebellion, the regime’s continuing efforts to centralize power in Sudan and even the European Union’s campaign to reduce illegal migration into Europe.

Musa Hilal: From Janjaweed to Border Guard

With the possible exception of Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes in Darfur, no individual is more closely associated with the deeds of the Janjaweed than Shaykh Musa Hilal Abdalla, a member of the Um Jalul clan of the Mahamid Arabs.

Sudan President Omar al-Bashir (center) with Musa Hilal (right of of al-Bashir)      (al-Jazeera)

Hilal is the nazir (chief) of the Mahamid, a branch of the northern Rizayqat tribal group (the northern Rizayqat includes the Mahamid, Mahariya, and Ireiqat groups. The southern Rizayqat are baqqara with little involvement in the Janjaweed). From his home village of Misteriya, Hilal became involved in the 1990s with the Arab Gathering (Tajamu al-Arabi), an Arab supremacist group following an ideology developed by Mu’ammar Qaddafi and the leaders of Libya’s Islamic Legion (Failaq al-Islamiya) in the 1980s. The Um Jalul began to clash with non-Arab Fur and Zaghawa tribesmen in the 1990s, leading to Hilal’s eventual arrest and imprisonment in Port Sudan in 2002 on charges of inciting ethnic violence.

Hilal’s prison term was brought to an abrupt end by the shocking April 2003 raid on Darfur’s al-Fashir military airbase by Fur and Zaghawa rebels retaliating against growing waves of government backed Arab violence against non-Arab communities. An unnerved government realized the SAF might not be capable of containing the mobile hit-and-run tactics of the rebels developed during fighting in Chad in the 1980s. After deciding to turn to local tribal militias to carry the counterinsurgency campaign, suddenly Shaykh Musa was just what the regime needed. Consequently, Hilal was released in June 2003 to organize a counterinsurgent force infused with pro-Arab ideology and armed, supplied and directed by SAF intelligence units. This was the “Janjaweed.” [1]

The strategy employed to hobble the militarily powerful insurgent forces was to cripple their support base and supply system through the destruction of defenseless Fur and Zaghawa villages. Tactics typically involved an initial bombardment by the Sudanese Air Force (usually crude “barrel-bombs” rolled out from Russian-built Antonov transport aircraft), followed by waves of horse and camel-borne Janjaweed and a final “mopping-up” force of Sudanese regulars and intelligence agents. Murder, torture, rape and looting were all part of a process intended to punish relatives of insurgents and even those with no connection to the rebels other than a shared ethnic or tribal background. Incitement of ethnic hatred, promises of immunity and a license to loot freely helped give free rein to the basest instincts of the Janjaweed; those reluctant to join in such activities were subject to imprisonment and the collective punishment of their families.

One of Hilal’s leading lieutenants during the 2003-2005 period of the worst Janjaweed abuses was Muhammad Hamdan Daglo “Hemetti,” from the Awlad Mansur clan of the Mahariya branch of the northern Rizayqat, though by this time the Awlad Mansur were resident in South Darfur, having moved there in the 1980s where they seized Fur lands in the southern Jabal Marra region.

Hilal’s notoriety brought largely meaningless sanctions from the UN Security Council in April 2006. Instead of ostracism, Hilal was brought to Khartoum, where he was integrated into the government as a special advisor to the Ministry of Federal Affairs and a member of parliament in the ruling National Congress Party (Hilal later repudiated his membership in the NCP).

By 2005 the government’s campaign in Darfur had begun to attract unwanted international attention, including ill-informed but nonetheless damaging accusations of “genocide” from various media sources and celebrity activists. However useful to the regime, the “Janjaweed” had to go. The solution was integration into the Border Guards, previously a small and little known camel-mounted unit. Arab tribesmen serving in the Janjaweed for loot were now given salaries and government ID cards which helped shield the new Border Guards from prosecution for war crimes while bringing them under tighter regime control. Musa Hilal was made a top commander in the expanded BGF.

The Return of Musa Hilal

Following a dispute with the government, Musa Hilal returned to northwest Darfur in January 2014, where, despite remaining commander of the BFG, he established the 8,000 strong Sudanese Revolutionary Awakening (Sahwa) Council (SRAC) as a vehicle for his personal and tribal political agenda. By March 2014 he had brought the northwestern Darfur districts of, Kutum, Kebkabiya, al-Waha and Saraf Omra under SRAC’s administrative control by the exclusion of government forces. Clashes between Hilal’s mostly Mahamid followers and government security forces began to occur with regularity.

Musa Hilal’s SRAC is also involved in a struggle with the RSF over control of Jabal Amer (northwest of Kabkabiya), where gold was discovered in 2012. The SAF withdrew from the area in 2013 under pressure from Hilal’s forces, which then defeated the rival Bani Hussein Arabs in a bloody struggle for control of the region. In 2016, the UN Panel of Experts on Sudan reported that Hilal was making approximately $54 million per year from SRAC’s control of the artisanal gold mining at Jabal Amer, though the report was not publicly released due to Russian objections. Gold is now the largest source of revenue in Sudan since South Sudan and its oil fields separated in 2011, though much of it is smuggled out of the country to markets in the Gulf States (Radio Tamazuj, April 27, 2016; Radio Dabanga, April 5, 2016).

In May 2017, SRAC spokesman Ahmad Muhammad Abakr called for “all Arab tribes in Darfur, Kordofan, and Blue Nile state to disobey the government’s military orders and refrain from participating in its war convoys.” Suggesting their cause had been “stolen by the government,” Abakr declared:

The ongoing wars are now fabricated for the purpose of a divide-and-rule policy of which the ruling elite in Khartoum is the ultimate beneficiary rather than the people of Sudan… If there is a need for war, we ask you to point weapons against those who employ you to fight on their behalf in order to take your political, economic and military rights instead of fighting a proxy war (Radio Dabanga, May 31, 2017).

The Rapid Support Forces

Prior to Hilal’s return to Darfur, Khartoum had detached the BGF’s Fut-8 Battalion (based in Nyala, South Darfur and commanded by Muhammad Hamdan Daglo) from the rest of the force and used it as the core of a new paramilitary, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). The move was partly a response to internal tensions in the BGF between Fut-8 and the Hilal-commanded Fut-7 Battalion, which claimed Fut-8 was favored by Khartoum in terms of supplies of weaponry, vehicles and supplies. [2] At the same time, Daglo and his followers complained that Hilal was not distributing BGF resources fairly, especially the all-important Land Cruisers. [3]

RSF Troops, Darfur

The RSF came under the direct authority of the National Security and Intelligence Service (NISS – Jihaz al-Amn al-Watani wa’l-Mukhabarat) and continues to enjoy the patronage of Second Vice President Hassabo Muhammad Abd al-Rahman, a Rizayqat. [4]

The RSF was integrated into the SAF in 2016, but with an unusual semi-autonomous status under the direct command of President Bashir (a Nile Valley or “riverine” Ja’alin Arab). Saying that the establishment of the RSF was the best decision he had ever made as president, Bashir recently told a graduating group of 1450 RSF recruits in Khartoum that their aim must be to “show force and terrorize the enemies” (Sudan Tribune, May 14, 2017).

Despite government claims that Darfur was stabilized, the RSF took a leading role in May 2017 alongside the SAF in a bitter four day battle around Ayn Siro in the Kutum district of North Darfur last May against the Zaghawa-led Sudan Liberation Movement – Minni Minawi (SLM-MM) and the allied Sudan Liberation Movement/Army – Transitional Council (SLM/A-TC), led by Nimr Abd al-Rahman. [5]

Several leading prisoners, including veteran rebel Muhammad Abd al-Salim “Tarada,” military commander of the Sudan Liberation Movement – Abd al-Wahid (SLM-AW) until June 2014 and then a commander in the SLM/A-TC, were reported to have been killed by NISS agents following their capture. The defeated rebels fled westward along the Upper Wadi Howar into Chad, though they later issued a joint communiqué making an unlikely claim to have driven off the government forces. The heavy losses suffered by the SLM/A-MM marked a disappointing return to Darfur after the movement had spent nearly two years fighting as mercenaries in Libya (Sudan Tribune, May 29, 2017; May 23, 2017; Sudan Vision, May 22, 2017; Radio Dabanga, May 23, 2017; IRIN, August 2, 2017).

RSF Commander Muhammad Hamdan Daglo “Hemetti”

RSF commander Daglo claimed the Darfur rebels were aided at Ayn Siro and Wadi Howar by Chadian opposition fighters (who have also been fighting as mercenaries in Libya) [6] and insinuated that the Chadians were harbored and supported logistically by Musa Hilal, though he did not elaborate on the reasons for this new support by Hilal for Darfur’s non-Arab rebels (Sudan Tribune, June 4, 2017).

By January 8, 2017, the RSF announced the capture of over 1500 illegal migrants in the last seven months following the interception of 115 migrants several days earlier (Sudan Tribune, January 9, 2017). RSF activity along the Libyan border is intended to intercept traffickers in humans and narcotics and to demonstrate Sudan’s commitment to reducing flows of illegal migrants after the European Union made a grant to Sudan of €100 million to deal with the issue.

Most of the illegal migrants making their way through Sudan to Libya and on into Europe hail from Eritrea, Ethiopia and Yemen. The EU is funding the construction of two RSF camps equipped with modern surveillance equipment and electronics for intercepting and detaining illegal migrants. [7]

Rejecting Integration

Defence Minister Lieutenant General Ahmad Awad Bin Auf announced a reorganization of the SAF’s “supporting forces” on July 19, 2017. A central part of the reorganization was the planned integration of the BGF into the RSF. Within days, SRAC spokesman Haroun Medeikher announced the BGF would refuse to allow its integration, saying the decision was “ill-considered and unwise” and had been taken without consulting the BGF leadership (Radio Dabanga, July 23, 2017).

On news of the refusal, one of Hilal’s old opponents, Abd al-Wahid al-Nur (leader of the largely Fur SLM-AW), used radio to reach out to the Arab militia leader, stating that while Musa Hilal’s “awakening conscience may be belated,” it was “time for all the Sudanese people to stand united against the regime” (Radio Afia Darfur, via Sudan Tribune, August 20, 2017). Abd al-Wahid has always been the rebel commander most likely to seek terms with Darfur’s Arab community, recognizing the symbiotic relationship between pastoralists and farmers as well as the existence of a common enemy in the Khartoum regime.

Hilal has also stepped up his anti-government rhetoric, urging his tribesmen not to volunteer for the SAF’s campaign in Yemen, claiming Vice-President Abd al-Rahman and General Daglo have stolen millions of dollars given to Sudan by Saudi Arabia and the UAE in return for their participation in the intervention against the Zaydi Shiite Houthis in Yemen’s ongoing civil war (al-Jazeera, September 10, 2017).

Turmoil on the Libyan Border

On September 22, 2017 the RSF claimed to have killed 17 human traffickers a day earlier with a loss of two RSF men. The encounter took place in the Jabal ‘Uwaynat region where the Sudanese, Libyan and Egyptian borders meet. [8] An RSF field commander, Lieutenant Colonel Hassan Abdallah, described the intercepted group as “the largest armed gang operating in human trafficking and illegal immigration” on the Libyan-Sudanese border. The RSF also claimed to have detained 48 illegal migrants being shipped to Libya (Radio Dabanga, September 24, 2017).

A SRAC spokesman insisted those killed were SRAC members involved in trading but not trafficking, adding that the men had initially only been detained by the RSF, but were killed after three days of negotiations failed to reach an agreement on a ransom  (Radio Dabanga, September 25, 2017). One of those killed was a Hilal bodyguard, Sulayman Daoud. Leading SRAC member Ali Majok al-Momin counter-charged the RSF with “trading and smuggling vehicles over the borders with Chad and Libya” (Radio Dabanga, September 25, 2017).

The incident was not the first involving the RSF and SRAC on the Libyan border. Seven SRAC members, including leading member Omar Saga and Muhammad al-Rayes, another of Musa Hilal’s bodyguards, were arrested near the border by the RSF on their return from Libya on August 11, 2017.

Behind the RSF’s vigilance against Hilal supporters on the Libyan border is Khartoum’s fear that Hilal is establishing cross-border contacts with “Field Marshal” Khalifa Haftar, leader of the Libyan National Army (LNA – actually a strong coalition of militias under Haftar’s command that oppose the internationally recognized Libyan government in Tripoli). Hilal also has important ties to militarily powerful Chad, whose president, Idriss Déby Itno (a Zaghawa), is Hilal’s son-in-law. Further complicating matters for the government is the high probability that many Mahamid and other Arab members of the RSF could defect to the BGF in the event of a full-scale conflict between the two.

Musa Hilal reportedly sent 200 vehicles full of armed fighters to besiege the RSF camp until those RSF members involved in the September 22 killings were turned over to the BGF (Sudan Tribune, September 26, 2017). A battle between the BGF and the RSF was averted when the two sides agreed to third-party mediation. The process favored the BGF, with the RSF making concessions over control of the gold workings at Jabal Amer and handing over vehicles, military equipment and BGF members detained in the attack (Radio Dabanga, September 29, 2017).

SRAC claimed on October 7, 2017 that two columns of armed RSF Land Cruisers, one from Ayn Siro and one from Kabkabiya, had been sent to “punish Hilal” by defeating his forces and bringing him in to Khartoum “dead or alive” (Radio Dabanga, October 9, 2017; Sudan Tribune, October 8, 2017). The accusation was not new; Shaykh Musa has claimed for years that Khartoum is intent on his assassination.

Conclusion

According to SRAC spokesman Haroun Medeikhir, Musa Hilal met in August with BGF commanders and traditional leaders across Darfur to discuss what he termed Khartoum’s attempt to “dismantle the Arab tribes” (Sudan Tribune, August 14, 2017). Key to bringing the Arab tribes to heel would be disarmament. It was no surprise then that the tribes were alarmed when Vice-President Abd al-Rahman announced a new six-month campaign to disarm Darfur’s militias beginning on October 15.

The SAF and RSF are also taking over 11 military bases being abandoned by the United Nations/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID). [9] The world’s second-largest peacekeeping force is in the first phase of a withdrawal prompted largely by international exhaustion with the complex Darfur issue and UNAMID’s annual budget of $1.35 billion. Khartoum, which never wanted the mission in the first place, began to push for an early UNAMID exit after the mission called for an investigation of the mass rape of 221 women and underage girls by SAF troops in the Fur village of Tabit in October 2014. [10] Khartoum maintains that Darfur has been stabilized and rebel fighters either expelled or neutralized.

Khartoum’s new effort to consolidate its power in Darfur raises renewed possibilities of an alliance of Arabs and non-Arabs against Khartoum, but the events of the last three decades have left a massive and deeply ingrained distrust between the two. Arab and non-Arab rebel groups in Darfur have toyed with the idea of an alliance against the center since 2007, when some Arab factions began to realize their international reputation had been irreversibly stained from manipulation by an insincere Khartoum regime that never had their interests in mind. [11] In addition, the services and development programs promised to the Arabs for their participation in the Janjaweed campaigns never materialized, leaving the Darfur Arabs no better off than they had been in 2003. Tension between the Darfur Arabs and the riverine Arab groups that control the government (the Ja’ailin, the Danagla and the Sha’iqiya) tend to bring out the strong prejudices that exist between the two Arab groups. The riverine Arabs regard the Darfur Abbala and Baqqara as backwards and “Africanized.” The Darfur Arabs, however, claim descent from the great Juhayna tribe of Arabia; some extremists seeking to shed the control of the riverine Arabs have described the latter as “half-caste Nubians.” [12]

Even Musa Hilal has at times demonstrated a broader understanding of Darfur’s ethnic make-up and the methods used by Khartoum to create and exploit racial and ethnic divisions. In 2008, Hilal told a gathering of Baqqara and Abbala tribal leaders that all Darfuris were “Africans” of mixed Arab and African origin who needed to work on restoring their traditionally cooperative social fabric. [13] In a private meeting with U.S. diplomats that followed, Hilal said “We found out that we have more in common with the Africans of Darfur than with these Nile Valley Arabs,” and even made a surprising recantation of the Arab supremacist philosophy he had followed for decades, suggesting that, based on their better education and moderation, “the Fur should lead” in Darfur, a return to the leadership structure of the old Fur Sultanate. [14]

Complete faith in Daglo’s loyalty does not exist in Khartoum, where conciliation is common when it is in the regime’s interests but indiscretions are never completely forgotten. In this case the issue is Daglo’s mutiny against the government in 2007 over RSF salaries, land and a dispute with Musa Hilal. Unable to assert its authority in Darfur and unwilling to see large numbers of armed Arabs join the rebels, the regime was forced to make major concessions to keep Daglo’s forces onside. When the salaries still went unpaid, Daglo threatened to storm Nyala, the capital of South Darfur. Money and arms eventually brought an end to the mutiny, but not the suspicion. [15]

While some Arabs and non-Arabs may discover they have a common enemy in Khartoum, they are still far from having common goals. In recent years, Khartoum has shown little interest in mediating disputes between Arab groups in Darfur that leave these groups weak, preoccupied and unable to unite against the center, especially at a time when budget cuts related to the loss of oil-rich South Sudan make it difficult for the regime to buy cooperation. The consequent environment of perpetual tension and suspicion does not bode well for the success of a campaign to seize the weapons of Darfur’s armed factions by force. In making the attempt the regime will encounter the consequences of its long-standing cynicism and duplicity on the Darfur file and a divide-and-rule policy that has left it with fewer friends in the region than when the rebellion and counter-insurgency began in 2003.

NOTES

  1. The term “Janjaweed,” which predates the counter-insurgency, was used colloquially in reference to armed bandits. The term was not used by the Arab militias themselves or the government.
  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. For the RSF, see, “Khartoum Struggles to Control its Controversial ‘Rapid Support Forces’,” Jamestown Foundation Terrorism Monitor, May 30, 2014, https://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=852
  5. The SLM-MM is named for its Zaghawa commander, Minni Minawi (a.k.a. Sulayman Arcua Minawi). Like Hilal, Minawi joined the government in Khartoum from 2006 to 2010 as Senior Assistant to the President of the Sudan before returning to the rebellion in Darfur. Nimr Abd al-Rahman was captured by government forces in the battle and replaced as SLM-TC head by al-Hadi Idriss Yahya.
  6. See 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; “Rebel or Mercenary? A Profile of Chad’s General Mahamat Mahdi Ali,” Militant Leadership Monitor, September 7, 2017, https://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=4010 .
  7. See Suliman Baldo, “Border Control from Hell: How the EU’s migration partnership legitimizes Sudan’s ‘militia state’,” Enough Project, April 2017, https://enoughproject.org/files/BorderControl_April2017_Enough_Finals.pdf
  8. For Jabal ‘Uwaynat and RSF activity in the area, see: “Jabal ‘Uwaynat: Mysterious Desert Mountain Becomes a Three-Border Security Flashpoint,” AIS Special Report, June 13, 2017, https://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=3930
  9. The UNAMID bases are located at Eid al-Fursan, Tullus, Muhajiriya, al-Malha, Mellit, Um Kedada, Abu Shouk, Zamzam, al-Tine, Habila and Foro Baranga.
  10. “Mass Rape in North Darfur: Sudanese Army Attacks against Civilians in Tabit,” Human Rights Watch, February 11, 2015, https://www.hrw.org/report/2015/02/11/mass-rape-north-darfur/sudanese-army-attacks-against-civilians-tabit
  11. See Andrew McGregor: “Darfur’s Arabs Taking Arms against Khartoum,” Canadian Institute of Strategic Studies Commentary (November 2007), https://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=559
  12. Julie Flint and Alex de Waal: Darfur: A New History of a Long War, Zed Books, London, 2008.
  13. “Iftar with the ‘Janjaweed’,” U.S. Department of State Cable 08KHARTOUM1450_a, September 25, 2008, https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/08KHARTOUM1450_a.html
  14. Ibid.
  15. “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; Julie Flint, op cit, 2009, pp.34-36, http://www.smallarmssurveysudan.org/fileadmin/docs/working-papers/HSBA-WP-17-Beyond-Janjaweed.pdf

Khartoum Struggles to Control its Controversial “Rapid Support Forces”

Andrew McGregor

May 30, 2014

Since independence in 1956, Sudan’s central government has formed a habit of using tribal-based (usually Arab) militias and paramilitaries to squash regional rebellions.  Usually well-armed but poorly disciplined, these groups have operated under the light hand of various security agencies willing to ignore atrocities and war crimes to re-establish central government control. Now, however, this long-standing policy has begun to backfire on the Islamist-military regime in Khartoum, with the recently formed “counter-terrorist” Rapid Support Forces (RSF) begins to operate outside the control of government authorities, creating even greater resentment against the government in Sudan’s numerous regions of unrest.

Major General Abbas Abd al-Aziz Reviews RSF Fighters

The RSF commander is Major General Abbas ‘Abd al-Aziz, a Ja’alin Arab from North Sudan and a trusted relative of President Omar al-Bashir as well as a senior member of the National Security and Intelligence Service (NISS – Jihaz al-Amn al-Watani wa’l-Mukhabarat), Sudan’s much-feared internal security organization, under whose command the RSF operates. His deputy and field commander is Muhammad Hamdan Daglo (a.k.a. Hemeti), a member of the Mahariya branch of the Northern Rizayqat of Darfur. The paramilitary of 5,000 to 6,000 men is believed to have the patronage of Sudanese Second Vice President Hassabo Muhammad ‘Abd al-Rahman, a native of Darfur and the political secretary of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP). The commander of the South Kordofan-based RSF-2, Colonel Hussein Jabr al-Dar, was killed in a mid-May battle with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army Northern Command (SPLM/A-NC) near the South Kordofan capital of Kadugli (Sudan Tribune, May 24; Radio Dabanga, May 26).

A common demand of much of Sudan’s armed and political opposition is the dissolution of the RSF. The creation of a large, well-armed militia under its own command and officially tasked with “counter-terrorism” activities is an important step in entrenching itself within the larger national administration (Middle East Online, May 21).

According to General ‘Abd al-Aziz, the RSF includes in its ranks retired and experienced military men as well as recruits from various parts of the country who receive four months of training before deployment on the battlefield, including lessons on international human rights and the rights of civilians in war zones (Sudan Vision, May 29; AFP, May 21). However, there is widespread concern that former members of Darfur’s notorious Janjaweed militias implicated in serious war crimes are being brought into more formal formations such as the Border Guards and RSF to shield them from prosecution.

The leading rebel movements still active in Darfur, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army of ‘Abd al-Wahid al-Nur (SLM/A-AW) and the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army of Minni Minnawi (SLM/A-MM) urged the UN Security Council in April to launch an “immediate investigation of the recent escalation of genocide in Darfur by the Rapid Support Forces from February 28 this year to date” (Radio Dabanga, April 23).

NUP Leader Sadiq al-Mahdi

Two-time Sudanese president and current leader of the opposition National Umma Party (NUP) Sadiq al-Mahdi was detained and interrogated by national security prosecutors in mid-May after making public remarks critical of the RSF for its violence against civilians (the NUP has a significant power-base in Darfur) and its alleged inclusion of foreign (mostly Arab) fighters from the Central African Republic, Chad, Libya and Mali in its ranks. National Assembly speaker al-Fatih Izz al-Din even accused al-Mahdi of “treason,” saying the RSF deserved praise for its anti-insurgency operations (Radio Dabanga, May 15).  NISS charges against the former PM included “inciting the international community against Sudan” and “causing unrest among the regular troops.” Al-Mahdi responded with an allusion to President al-Bashir, noting that: “Speaking the truth is the best form of jihad when the sultan is unfair” (Radio Dabanga, May 14). It is worth noting that when al-Mahdi was in his second term as prime minister (1986-1989), he relied heavily on Baqqara (cattle-raising) Arab militias known as murahalin who committed numerous atrocities against South Sudanese Dinka tribesmen during the second civil war.

Malik Agar, chairman of the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF – an umbrella group of armed opposition movements), denounced attempts to “muzzle” al-Mahdi, claiming that the RSF had “expanded their activities to the Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile and even North Kordofan’s al-Ubayd and its surroundings. They burn hundreds of villages and kill and displace thousands of Sudanese citizens, rape and kidnap hundreds of women and loot civilians’ property, for their systematic impoverishment” (Radio Dabanga, May 16).

Backed by field commander Muhammad Hamdan Daglo, General Abd al-Aziz held an angry press conference to respond to al-Mahdi’s charges and earlier allegations from United Nations/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) chief Muhammad ibn Chambas:

We didn’t loot. We didn’t burn any villages. We didn’t rape… It’s the rebels who are destroying water resources, burning villages and committing race-based killings. Then they try to put the blame on us (AFP, May 14).

The NISS director of operations, Major General ‘Ali al-Nasih, insists that the RSF is a highly disciplined force and part of the NISS command structure: “More than 6,000 security personnel are distributed at petroleum sites, co-deployed with the armed forces at borders and co-working with police to protect the national capital and other major towns” (Sudan Vision, May 25). The general also maintains that the paramilitary engages in such activities as public health, environmental protection and food distribution.

General ‘Abd al-Aziz has admitted that the RSF has committed some human rights violations, but described these incidents as “limited and individual” (Radio Dabanga, May 16). Such dissimulation has not impressed SPLM-N secretary-general Yasir Arman, who urged all Sudanese to “campaign against the RSF war criminals” at home and abroad: “The RSF troops are mercenaries, who do anything for material gains. This [absorption of the Janjaweed into the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF)] may tear Sudan apart by destroying the social fabric” (Radio Dabanga, May 14).

On May 19-20, heavy fighting broke out between police in the North Darfur capital of al-Fashir and Haras al-Hudud  (Border Guard) units allegedly supported by allied RSF members (both units draw heavily on former Janjaweed members) (Independent, May 20).  The paramilitaries, who are accused by local residents of looting, armed robbery, rape and drug trafficking, had clashed earlier with police in January 2013, killing two policemen, and again last April when Border Guards attempted to break into the Agricultural Bank in al-Fashir (Radio Dabanga, January 31, 2013; March 18, 2014). The former Janjaweed, who were once richly rewarded for targeting civilian populations in Darfur, have fallen victim to budget cuts forced by the separation of oil-rich South Sudan in 2011 and are eager to make up the difference at the expense of the residents of Darfur and Kordofan.  Using government-supplied arms to extort cash is nothing new to RSF field commander Muhammad Hamdan Daglo, who led a 2007 rebellion by Mahariya Border Guard irregulars demanding payment of back-wages. [1]

In late 2013, thousands of RSF recruits (mostly from Darfur) were shipped to the battlefields of South Kordofan, where they suffered heavy losses in fighting against SPLM/A-NC rebels. Subsequently, they were stationed in the North Kordofan capital of al-Ubayd. After various rampages and assaults on the local population (generally viewed as pro-government) were followed by massive protests against their presence, the RSF was ordered back to Darfur in February, where they immediately began attacking local villages and displacing tens of thousands of people (Sudan Tribune [Khartoum], February 26).  Unable to control the militia, the Sudanese government was reported to have paid the RSF $3 million to evacuate its forces from al-Ubayd (al-Taghyeer [Khartoum], February 13). In west Kordofan, repeated incidents of looting, assaults and sexual attacks by RSF personnel in 2013 led local people to rise up against the paramilitary, eventually receiving armed support against the RSF from the local SAF garrison in Kharasan (Radio Dabanga, February 26).

Under these conditions, the RSF was naturally as unwanted in Darfur as it was in Kordofan; a statement by a coalition of 12 Darfur civil society organizations condemned the praise heaped on the paramilitary by its commanders and patrons:

The RSF militias, under the command of the National Intelligence and Security Services, seemingly have been commended for the burning of hundreds of villages in South and North Darfur since February this year; for killing, wounding, raping, and looting the property of innocent civilians, and causing the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Darfuri people (Radio Dabangs, April 24).

On May 21, a pro-opposition news website claimed that “an informed source” had described a major clandestine airlift of RSF fighters to Libya in post-midnight flights from Khartoum Airport. Accompanied by Qatari-bought Sudanese-manufactured weapons, these RSF units were being sent to support hard-pressed Islamist forces in Libya in return for emergency financial support and oil shipments from Qatar and Libya respectively (Hurriyat Sudan, May 21). If this unconfirmed report is true, such a deployment may be more an effort to remove this unruly paramilitary from Sudan than a sincere effort to support Libya’s Islamists.

Note

1. “Border Intelligence Brigade (al-Istikhbarat al-Hudud, a.k.a. 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

This article was published in the May 30, 2014 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.