Smoldering tensions between rival armed forces erupted into all-out warfare in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum on Saturday, leaving at least 50 dead and 600 injured. What began as a peaceful clash over Sudan's political future is now a war for control of Africa's third-largest country .
The battles pit the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan against the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) of General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo -- who's also known as Hemedti and has served as Burhan's deputy head of state.
The two generals united in a 2021 coup to take shared control of the country. However, recent months have seen mounting tensions between the SAF and RSF, as the generals have clashing positions in negotiations for the establishment of civilian government -- something the country's been trying to achieve since a 2019 revolution overthrew the 30-year reign of President Omar al-Bashir.
To say things have soured among the two former allies would be a major understatement: After fighting erupted, Hemedti has reportedly said that "Burhan will be captured or he will die like a dog." Meanwhile, in a gesture that seems comically empty given the state of affairs, Burhan issued a decree commanding the RSF to disband.
It's unclear who fired the first shot, but now the two forces are battling for control of key Khartoum locations, including the presidential palace, army headquarters, state television and the airport.
Battles have also been reported in various other cities. "Large numbers of casualties reported in Nyala, South Darfur," tweeted BBC freelancer Mohanad Hashim. "We need to build a better picture of what is going on beyond Khartoum."
While ZeroHedge can't authenticate them, videos are circulating on social media that purportedly show various scenes of combat. Here, a multiple-rocket launch system is deployed from the bed of a light truck, as other soldiers make a tardy exit from the backblast area:
جانب من إشتباكات المدن.— ملوك إشتباكات المواكب #رفاق_الثورة (@Moshtabk) April 15, 2023
الله يحفظنا pic.twitter.com/Iv8fb5CVgT
SAF jets were seen screeching low over the Khartoum skyline as they conducted airstrikes on RSF positions in and around the city.
Sudanese Air Force MiG-29 jet conducts airstrikes against RSF (Rapid Reaction/Support Forces) in Khartoum pic.twitter.com/AcrY3zhMBG— LogKa (@LogKa11) April 15, 2023
Some of the earliest fighting took place at Khartoum International Airport. Saudi Arabia's national airline, Saudia, reported one of its Airbus A330 jets had an "accident." It was seen engulfed in flame, while other videos showed multiple commercial aircraft ablaze. All flights have been cancelled.
BREAKING: Planes on fire at Khartoum airport after coup attempt in Sudan pic.twitter.com/aWdyMv23xs— BNO News (@BNONews) April 15, 2023
Battles continued to rage overnight, lighting up the sky with tracer rounds...
#BREAKING #Sudan— Mowliid Haji Abdi (@MowliidHaji) April 16, 2023
📌 Fighting continues in #Khartoum mainly eastern side of the city, the death toll & injuries are increasing
📌 Rapid Support Forces say their forces in #PortSudan are under attack from foreign aircraft.
📌 Military jets conducted an aerial bombing on RSF bases pic.twitter.com/ogAO5Pm2oh
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he has consulted with the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates about the "dangerous fighting...which threatens the security and safety of Sudanese civilians and undermines efforts to restore Sudan’s democratic transition." The trio called for an immediate end to hostilities "without pre-condition."
There are also calls for peace from within Sudan. “I demand al-Burhan, the army commanders, and the RSF leaders to stop the bullets immediately and for the voice of reason to rule,” said Abdalla Hamdok, former civilian prime minister in a video statement. “There is no victor over the corpses of its people.”
US embassy staff in Khartoum have been ordered to shelter in place, with similar advice given to Americans citizens in the country. Since its 1956 independence from the UK and Egypt, Sudan leads Africa in the cumulative number of coup attempts, at 15 and counting.
Osama bin Laden operated both legitimate businesses and a terrorist headquarters in Sudan in the early 1990s, before being expelled. In 2020, Sudan was removed from the US list of state sponsors of terror by Donald Trump, as his administration pushed for Sudan to establish diplomatic relations with Israel. To achieve the removal, Sudan agreed to pay $335 million in restitution to terror victims.
While Trump avoided publicly linking the terror-designation removal and the establishment of diplomatic ties with Israel, RSF leader Hemedti was frank: “Whether we like it or not, relations with Israel are tied to removing Sudan from the US list of states sponsoring terrorism."
As the Trump White House maneuvered, Hemedti spoke warmly of Israel's potential to benefit Sudan, a 91% Muslim country: "We need Israel. It is a developed country and Sudan will benefit from its advanced capabilities in the technical and agricultural sector."
Hemedti, who's been vilified for a bloody 2019 crackdown on a protester camp that killed more than 100, has the backing of Saudi Arabia and UAE. He gained their favor by deploying RSF soldiers to aid the Saudi war in Yemen.
Sudan's position on the Red Sea amplifies its strategic significance. While they were sharing power, Burhan and Hemedti used the possible construction of a Russian naval base at Port Sudan as a bargaining chip in their pursuit of US tolerance of their military rule.
In February, Sudan's military completed its review of an agreement for the Russian base -- and approved it. However, it said final adoption would have to wait for the transition to civilian rule, to include the creation of a legislature to ratify it.
To the extent this new war postpones that transition and the establishment of a new Russian naval base astride the Red Sea, it would seem it serves a US government objective. We can't help wonder, then, about Washington's sincerity when it comes to stopping it -- and about how exactly it started.
Trigger Warning ⚠️— Benjamin Strick (@BenDoBrown) April 15, 2023
Footage captures the moment a building in Khartoum was hit.
This is the result of these clashes in Khartoum - civilians always bare the toll.