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What is Happening in Sudan?

Smoke rises over the city during ongoing fighting between the Sudanese army and paramilitaries of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in Khartoum, Sudan, on Wednesday. Photo by Stringer/EPA-EFE
Smoke rises over the city during ongoing fighting between the Sudanese army and paramilitaries of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in Khartoum, Sudan, on Wednesday. Photo by Stringer/EPA-EFE

With the United States military forces evacuating American embassy personnel in the Northeastern African country of Sudan over the weekend, many Americans are wondering about the ongoing conflict in the war-torn nation and how it started. To understand what is going on in Sudan and what led to the events, here is an explanation of the current crisis:

The clashes in Khartoum are between the Sudanese Armed Forces, led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary group composed of Janjaweed militias which fought in the 2003 War in Darfur, led by General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo. Both men were allies at one point in history, working together to overthrow Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir, a close ally of the Islamic Republic of Iran, several years ago.

After the military coup, a power-sharing-government formed, consisting of civilian and military groups, which ran the African country for several years and oversaw a transition to a civilian-run government and tried to maintain order and stability. Then, in 2021, General al-Burhan, who was chief of the power-sharing council, dissolved the entity, calling for elections in Sudan in 2023.

The current conflict in Khartoum occurred between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the RSF because of failed negotiations on the issue of merging the Armed Forces and RSF ahead of restoring civilian rule. Officials on both sides disagree on which General would be under the command of the other and how the RSF would fit into the regular Sudanese Armed Forces.

Since then, heavy fighting has occurred across the country since early April, with Sudan's capital city of Khartoum and neighboring Omdurman turned into a war zone.

When fighting between both sides broke out in early April, both sides blamed the other for starting the conflict, with Sudanese military officials accusing the RSF of illegally mobilizing in the early days, while officials in the RSF said the army had tried to obtain full power in a plot with Bashir loyalists.

General Dagalo has allied himself with civilian parties, including the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC), which shared power with the military following Bashir's overthrow and the 2021 coup. Officials familiar with Dagalo and his actions say that the RSF General is trying to transform himself into a political leader.

Following the overthrow of Bashir, many experts and analysts thought the popular uprising had raised hopes that Sudan and its 46 million population could emerge from Islamic autocracy, internal conflict, and isolation under Bashir and open up to Western countries like the U.S.

In 2020 Sudan signed a normalization agreement with the Jewish state of Israel, joining Morocco, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) 2020 as part of the U.S.-backed Abraham Accords under the Trump administration.

After Bashir's overthrow, the U.S. sided behind a transition towards democratic elections following Bashir's overthrow, suspending financial support following the coup but decided to back the plan for the new move toward civilian government. Arab states like Saudi Arabia and the UAE have sought to shape the event in Sudan, seeing the move away from Bashir's rule as a way to roll back radical Islamic influence and strengthen stability in the region.

Moscow has stakes in Sudan, seeking to build a naval base on the Red Sea, while several UAE-backed companies have been signing up to invest and create a port and airline in Khartoum. Egypt has taken an active role in the ongoing conflict in Sudan, with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, having relations with General al-Burhan and the Sudanese army, calling for political negotiations through parties with connections to the Sudanese army and Bashir's former government.

The Sudanese military has branded the RSF a rebel force and demanded the organization's end. RSF General Dagalo called Burhan a criminal, blaming him and the military for the country's destruction. While experts say that Sudan's army has powerful military resources and around 300,000 troops, the RSF has 100,000 troops deployed across the country, including the capital of Khartoum, making the conflict a long-protracted issue.

Related Story: U.S. Military Makes Daring Evacuation of Embassy Staff from War-Torn Sudan, Biden Says

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