Main SliderMiddle East

Rival generals are battling for control in Sudan. A simple guide to the fighting

By Nima Elbagir, Tamara Qiblawi and Amarachi Orie, CNN

Fierce fighting across Sudan has left hopes for a peaceful transition to civilian rule in tatters.

Forces loyal to two rival generals are vying for control, and as is so often the case civilians have suffered the most, with dozens killed and hundreds injured.

Here’s what you need to know.

A power struggle is at the center of the fighting

At the heart of the clashes are two men: Sudan’s military leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the commander of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.

Until recently, they were allies. The pair worked together to topple ousted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in 2019 and played a pivotal role in the military coup in 2021.

However, tensions arose during negotiations to integrate the RSF into the country’s military as part of plans to restore civilian rule.

The key question: who would be subordinate to who under the new hierarchy.

These hostilities, sources told CNN, are the culmination of what both parties view as an existential fight for dominance.

Sudan is no stranger to upheaval

It is difficult to overstate how seismic Bashir’s overthrow was. He had led the country for nearly three decades when popular protests that began over soaring bread prices toppled him from power.

During his rule, South Sudan split from the north while the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Bashir alleged war crimes in Darfur, a separatist Western region.

After Bashir’s ouster, Sudan was ruled by an uneasy alliance between the military and civilian groups.

That all ended in 2021, when the power-sharing government was dissolved by armed forces.

The RSF has a controversial past

The Rapid Support Forces are the preeminent paramilitary group in Sudan, whose leader, Dagalo, has enjoyed a rapid rise to power.

During Sudan’s Darfur conflict in the early 2000s, he was the leader of Sudan’s notorious Janjaweed forces, implicated in human rights violations and atrocities.

An international outcry saw Bashir formalize the group into paramilitary forces known as the Border Intelligence Units.

In 2007, its troops became part of the country’s intelligence services and, in 2013, Bashir created the RSF, a paramilitary group overseen by him and led by Dagalo.

Dagalo turned against Bashir in 2019, but not before his forces opened fire on an anti-Bashir, pro-democracy sit-in in Khartoum, killing at least 118 people.

He was later appointed deputy of the transitional Sovereign Council that ruled Sudan in partnership with civilian leadership.

The two rivals mirror each other

Burhan is essentially Sudan’s leader. At the time of Bashir’s toppling, Burhan was the army’s inspector general.

His career has run an almost parallel course to Dagalo’s.

He also rose to prominence in the 2000’s for his role in the dark days of the Darfur conflict, where the two men are believed to have first came into contact.

Al-Burhan and Hemedti both cemented their rise to power by currying favor with the Gulf powerhouses.

They commanded separate battalions of Sudanese forces, who were sent to serve with the Saudi-led coalition forces in Yemen.

Now they find themselves locked in a power struggle.

Sudan faces an uncertain future

Where the fighting will end is unclear. Both sides claim control over key sites and fighting has been reported across the country in places far from the capital Khartoum.

While various official and non-official estimates place the Sudanese armed forces at around 210-220,000, the RSF are believed to number approximately 70,000 but are better trained and better equipped.

International powers have expressed alarm. Apart from concerns over civilians there are likely other motivations at play – Sudan is resource-rich and strategically located.

CNN has previously reported on how Russia has colluded with Sudan’s military leaders to smuggle gold out of Sudan.

Dagalo’s forces were a key recipient of Russian training and weaponry, and Sudan’s military leader Burhan is also believed by CNN’s Sudanese sources to have been backed by Russia, before international pressure forced him to publicly disavow the presence of the Russian mercenary group Wagner, in Sudan.

Sudan’s neighbors Egypt and South Sudan have offered to mediate, but in the meantime all that is certain is more misery for the Sudanese people.

Related Articles

Back to top button