The Sudanese Armed Forces Facing Imminent Collapse under RSF Pressure

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In early March, the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) retook areas of Omdurman from the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). The reconquest observed one of the SAF’s few successes after months of humiliating withdrawals and territorial losses since battling broke out nearly a year ago.

Once witnessed as a force to be considered with, Sudan’s army has spent 11 months labouring — and often failing — to preserve control over vital national territory. This includes failing much of the Darfur region, most of the capital territory and large swaths of the agricultural El Gezira region. When the war started, the heavily armed SAF headed the skies and wielded heavy weaponry. The army was funded through controlling business ventures varying from farms to oil fields. Those advantages were quickly rejected as the highly mobile, lightly armed RSF received financial sponsorship from the United Arab Emirates, weapons from Russia’s Wagner Group (now understood as Africa Corps) and energy from supporters based in South Sudan.

“In the eyes of decision creators across the Horn of Africa’s capitals, the possibility of RSF supremo Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo “Hemedti” becoming Sudan’s new strongman has shifted from hypothetical to distinct possibility,” Sudan expert Harry Verhoeven said. As the war between the SAF and RSF grinds on, it is killing Sudan’s economy, costing the country an evaluated $80 million per day and shrinking the gross domestic product by up to 18%. Economist Haisam Fathi described Radio Dabanga in December that the formal economy has arrived at a “near standstill.”

In response, SAF leaders have shifted to former high-ranking members of ousted dictator Omar al-Bashir’s government for economic support. The RSF continues to obtain funds through the deal of gold smuggled to the UAE from mines owned by Hemedti. Since the beginning of the war in April 2023, the SAF has brought a reactive, defensive strategy to RSF assaults, leading it to fall ground repeatedly. The capital of Central Darfur lost to the RSF in October when the SAF’s 21st Infantry Division escaped the region. West Darfur fell to the RSF a few days later after most of the 15th Division garrison also fled, leaving behind supplies of weapons.

In November 2023, the SAF’s 22nd Division withdrew from the Baleela Oil Field, leaving the structure in the RSF’s hands. With its Khartoum headquarters under blockade since April 2023, Sudan’s government, directed by SAF chief Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, now works from Port Sudan, which is undergoing power shortages and a chronic lack of fresh water.

The fall of Wad Medani southeast of Khartoum earlier this year diverted public opinion against al-Burhan and his leadership of the war, with some calling for him to be substituted as head of the SAF. “Resistance to the RSF attack is weakening at all levels. The SAF is highly discouraged and suffers from high rates of abandonment and defection.”

That positions Sudan’s diverse population at threat of rule by the RSF, an Arab supremacist group with a chronology of brutality and thoughtlessness of the means of development, administrative techniques, economic theory and international relations. The once mighty Sudan Armed Forces have earned military and political errors that have increased the likelihood of their disintegration and the destruction of the Sudanese state.

The RSF, if it succeeds, is unlikely to restore Sudan or guide to a democratically elected civilian government many Sudanese seek, according to experts. Concentrated on self-enrichment, the RSF’s barely literate leadership has no reasonable plan for reviving the state. There is little probability that the RSF’s military success can translate into a more hopeful future for Sudan’s 46 million people.

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