With the war between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and Rapid Support Forces (RSF) escalating, the two sides continue to accuse each other of breaking the armistice. This shows how difficult it is to reach the cease-fire that many regional powers, including Egypt, international parties and the United Nations are seeking. The fact that the two sides’ equation of engagement hasn’t changed much since the beginning of the battle bodes ill, warning that the situation may quickly deteriorate.
The RSF sparked the crisis that broke out on 15 April as a result of its movement the day before the start of the battle to seize control of the Merowe Air Base in northern Sudan. The SAF objected to this action and decided to intervene by force to restore the base concurrently with attempts by the RSF to control crucial sites and facilities such as the radio and television building and the Republican Palace, besides the key military locations in the capital and its surroundings, such as the General Command headquarters. The RSF’s use of this tactic primarily reflects its attempts to take control of the city, grab the reins of power, and thwart the political forces’ efforts to sign a deal on a political accord.
SAF Countermeasures to Thwart the RSF’s Plan
The SAF moved to halt the RSF’s progress and quickly restored the Merowe air base and the RSF’s camps, most notably Taiba and Soba to the south of Khartoum and Karari to the north of Omdurman and Salha to the south, the training camp in Al-Jili in Khartoum North, as well as other smaller camps in various parts of the capital. In addition, the SAF declared that it had taken over the RSF bases and headquarters in a number of states, including Port Sudan, Kassala, Al-Qadarif, Ad-Damazin, Kosti, and Kadugli.
In the states of the White Nile, Kassala, Al-Qadarif, Red Sea, Blue Nile, South Kordofan, Sennar, the Northern State, and Al-Jazirah, the RSF surrendered their weapons and vehicles without a struggle; however, in the state of North Kordofan, they were compelled to do so, and clashes are still occurring in the states of the Darfur region. However, the RSF commander boasted that his forces had captured senior officers and over 100 soldiers, as well as Khartoum Airport, sites inside the army headquarters, the presidential palace, and the heads of the military divisions in the Darfur states, and had seized 200 tanks and military vehicles.
Power Balance Tilts in Favor of the SAF
With 205,000 fighters, a military air fleet, fighters, bombers, combat helicopters, transport aircraft, armored vehicles, artillery, and missile launchers, and an overall superiority in numbers and quality over the RSF, the SAF clearly holds the upper hand in the power dynamic. Additionally, its infrastructure consists of factories for heavy equipment, armored vehicles, and ammunition, as well as trained personnel in a variety of occupations related to military and combat operations. With these advantages, the SAF has been able to stop the RSF from seizing key locations and accomplish many other objectives in the ongoing conflict.
On the other hand, according to some estimates, the RSF is supported by about 100,000 personnel who are stationed at numerous military installations across the nation. It’s possible, though, that the RSF’s actual manpower is much smaller—possibly even half as large as this estimate suggests, especially given that the RSF had previously counted on a force seconded from the army to work in its ranks, and that the majority of this force had previously returned to the army in protest of the RSF action.
In addition, the RSF lacks tanks and aircraft but possesses about 10,000 four-wheel drive vehicles with heavy anti-personnel machine guns, two and four-wheel anti-aircraft guns, and an unknown number of cannons. These capabilities allow it to raid sites and camps as a light force that can move in a guerrilla war pattern, but it cannot keep this going for a long time. As a result, it started to turn to developing the engagement equation in the field, which led to increased escalation in Khartoum.
In this context, it is possible that a number of factors may contribute to prolonging the crisis, including:
- The deployment of RSF throughout all states, municipalities, and government agencies.
- Using civilians as human shields, particularly in Khartoum.
- External interventions from regional and international sides, some of which may seek to aid the RSF.
- The potential that Muhammad Hamdan Hamidti, the RSF’s commander, will take advantage of the contacts he has built up over time.
- Using the proceeds of the seized wealth to finance and use the RSF in this conflict over the previous years.
- Utilizing parties with an interest in the current conflict, particularly Islamic parties with ties to the former regime, whose frequent appearances show their desire to heighten the tension in the current situation.
On the other hand, there are a number of elements that might help obstruct the RSF’s movements, such as:
- Increasing public preference to prioritize the SAF. There is widespread agreement that the RSF must be either dissolved or merged. The RSF act is predicted to increase Sudanese opposition to the existence of a parallel army.
- The forces comparison, both qualitatively and quantitatively, leans heavily in favor of the SAF.
- The failure to provide logistical support for the RSF will force it to meet its members’ needs through plunder and looting, widening the gulf between the Sudanese people and Hemedti’s forces. According to military estimates, the RSF requires a constant flow of fuel, ammunition, and food supplies for the troops. Without these supplies, fuel can last for three to four days on average, and ammunition for three days at maximum range and continuous engagement.
- Lack of competencies and technical elements within the RSF, as a result of its previous reliance on qualified SAF personnel.
- Absence of the information and intelligence support that the Sudanese General Intelligence Service provided through cooperation between the two sides during the previous period.
- The failed attempt to draw Egyptian forces into the conflict by attacking them while they were conducting joint training at the Merowe base northwest of Khartoum.
- Tepid regional and international backing for the RSF, amid international condemnation of its action.
- The RSF has a long history of violating human rights; current actions will only lead to an increase in those violations.
Despite these dynamics, predicting the next scenario is challenging due to the rapid and complex interactions of the current scene, which are making the situation worse. It appears that the RSF integration project into the SAF has reached an impasse. A slide into war would be extremely expensive for Sudan. Therefore, it is imperative that parties exercise common sense in order to navigate the crisis by possibly making concessions until the crisis is resolved.