Sudan’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) are receiving support from Libyan military leader Khalifa Haftar in its fight against the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.
Sources familiar with the matter told the US paper that Haftar, the commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA) that controls eastern Libya, has dispatched at least one plane full of military supplies to the RSF, whose chief Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, better known as Hemeti, is locked in a deadly battle with SAF commander General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, Sudan’s de facto head of state.
Two sources closely following events in Libya and Sudan have also told Middle East Eye that at least two planes have taken off from Kufra, in southeastern Libya’s Cyrenaica, and landed in Sudanese territory controlled by Hemeti.
Kufra is an important trade hub for both legal and illegal goods crossing Libya’s borders into Chad and Sudan.
A spokesman for the LNA denied the charges and called the Wall Street Journal “cheap and corrupt”.
More than 300 people have now died in Sudan, the World Health Organisation said, as fighting between the two military entities continued into its sixth day.
A series of attempts to broker a ceasefire have failed, with Hemeti now saying he has “no objection” to implementing one over the Eid al-Fitr holiday this weekend.
The conflict between the RSF and the SAF was triggered by a dispute over the paramilitary’s incorporation into the Sudanese military as part of an internationally-mediated deal to kickstart Sudan’s transition back to civilian government.
The deal was meant to be signed at the beginning of April.
Instead, the two generals, whose rivalry had been growing ever more intense, went to war.
The calculations and preferences of regional and international powers are a crucial part of this rivalry.
Burhan and Hemeti enjoy different sources of power and wealth and have different backers abroad.
On Thursday morning, the Egyptian army said that three flights carrying Egyptian troops captured by the RSF last week had been returned to Cairo from Sudan.
The SAF had earlier said that 177 Egyptian air force troops were airlifted back to Egypt after reaching the Egyptian embassy in Khartoum with assistance from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
“The Egyptians are already heavily involved,” Cameron Hudson, a former CIA analyst, told Middle East Eye on Monday.
“They are actively in the fight. There are Egyptian fighter jets that are part of these bombing campaigns. Egyptian special forces units have been deployed and the Egyptians are providing intelligence and tactical support to the SAF.”
Haftar and Hemeti
On Monday 10 April, just days before fighting erupted in Sudan, one of Haftar’s sons, Sadeeq Haftar, was named the honorary president of Al Merreikh Club, one of two big football teams in Sudan.
Sadeeq had flown to Khartoum on a private jet and donated $2m to the club, which has been struggling financially.
After the press conference announcing him, Haftar’s son went to Hemeti’s Khartoum home, where the two broke their fast together. Hemeti has himself donated seats, electrical equipment and even grass to the football club, while his brother is overseeing repairs to its stadium.
“Haftar’s son Sadeeq didn’t know where Sudan was, but days before the war he was posing with Hemeti and meeting him,” Jalel Harchaoui, a political analyst and an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, told MEE.
“The Haftar family cares about the survival of illicit trade networks that exist between Sudan and eastern Libya,” Harchaoui said. “The Haftar camp is now sending aid. This sudden benevolence suggests that the Emiratis or the Russians or someone from outside has decided to use their leverage with Haftar for the benefit of Hemeti.”
Fuel, captagon, hashish, gold and stolen cars are among the illegal goods smuggled in and out of Sudan and Libya. Haftar-controlled territory in Libya also lies along the migration route from Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia to the Mediterranean. People trafficking has, since 2014, become a lucrative trade in Libya.
Like Haftar, Hemeti has a close relationship with leading figures in the UAE and Russia.
The RSF, like the LNA, has worked with the Wagner Group, the mercenary outfit that operates in Libya, Central African Republic, Ukraine and elsewhere.
William Burns, director of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), has been trying to convince Egypt to pressure Haftar to disband and send away not only his Wagner operatives, but Chadian and Sudanese fighters who make up a substantial part of the commander’s LNA.
Those Chadian and Sudanese militias working for Haftar are usually connected to rivals of Hemeti, including Minni Minawi and former Janjaweed leader Musa Hilal, who was recently released from prison in Sudan.
Harchaoui said that while he could not envisage Haftar flying fuel and arms out of Kufra every day, the Libyan commander would be able to help keep the RSF supplied using land routes.
The analyst also said that while neither the UAE nor the Wagner Group is likely to have calculated that Hemeti can defeat Burhan and control the Sudanese state, both might see advantages in the kind of disorder the RSF leader could create.
“I am certain that what is happening in Sudan will change things in Libya,” Harchaoui said. For nine years, the Sudanese state accepted Hemeti, a “glorified gangster” whose presence in Khartoum had “enormous repercussions” in terms of criminal networks.
If Hemeti is defeated or removed from the Sudanese state apparatus, the criminal networks that have enjoyed his support will have to be reconfigured.
“In terms of how some Libyan leaders approach their illicit businesses, this is a game changer,” Harchaoui said.
“For the first time since 2014, Khartoum is a problem for Libya. Everything that is connected to the south might have to be altered and who knows what political change will come out of it.”
Oscar Rickett is a journalist who has written and worked for Middle East Eye, VICE, The Guardian, openDemocracy, the BBC, Channel 4, Africa Confidential and various others.
Evidence emerges of Russia’s Wagner arming militia leader battling Sudan’s army
By Nima Elbagir, Gianluca Mezzofiore, Tamara Qiblawi and Barbara Arvanitidis,
The Russian mercenary group Wagner has been supplying Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces with missiles to aid their fight against the country’s army, Sudanese and regional diplomatic sources have told CNN.
The sources said the surface-to-air missiles have significantly buttressed RSF paramilitary fighters and their leader Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo as he battles for power with Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, Sudan’s military ruler and the head of its armed forces.
In bordering Libya, where a Wagner-backed rogue general, Khalifa Haftar, controls swathes of land, satellite imagery supports these claims, showing an unusual uptick in activity on Wagner bases.
EU sanctions Wagner subsidiary in Sudan after CNN investigation into gold exploitation
The powerful Russian mercenary group has played a public and pivotal role in Moscow’s foreign military campaigns, namely in Ukraine, and has repeatedly been accused of committing atrocities. In Africa, it has helped to prop up Moscow’s growing influence and seizing of resources.
Dagalo and Burhan had been jockeying for power in negotiations over restoring civilian leadership in Sudan before talks broke down, erupting into some of the worst violence the country has seen in decades.
The fighting has claimed hundreds of lives and deprived millions of people from electricity, water and food.
Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, former Deputy Head of the Sudan Transitional Military Council and parmilitary leader, attends the signing ceremony of the agreement on peace and ceasefire in Juba, South Sudan October 21, 2019. REUTERS/Samir Bol
Satellite images show increased activity
Satellite images analyzed by CNN and open-source group “All Eyes on Wagner” show one Russian transport plane shuttling between two key Libyan airbases belonging to Haftar and used by the sanctioned Russian fighting group.
Haftar has backed the RSF, sources say, although he denies taking sides. And increased Wagner activity at Haftar’s bases, combined with claims by Sudanese and regional diplomatic sources, suggests that both Russia and the Libyan general may have been preparing to support the RSF even before the eruption of violence.
The uptick in movement by the Ilyushin-76 transport aircraft started two days before the conflict in Sudan began on Saturday, and continued until at least Wednesday, according to satellite images and Netherlands-based open-source specialist Gerjon.
That plane, one of a class of aircraft known by the NATO designation Candid, flew from Haftar’s Khadim airbase in Libya to the Syrian coastal city of Latakia – where Russia has a major airbase – on Thursday, April 13. The next day, it flew from Latakia back to Khadim. The day after that, it flew again to another Haftar airbase in Libya’s Jufra. It parked in a secluded area, something flight tracker Gerjon considered highly unusual. This was the day the conflict erupted.
The transport plane returned to Latakia on Tuesday before flying back to the Libyan militia airbase of Khadim and then to Jufra, according to Gerjon’s research. That day, Russia airdropped surface-to-air missiles to Dagalo’s militia positions in northwest Sudan, according to regional and Sudanese sources.
For years, Dagalo has been a key beneficiary from Russian involvement in Sudan, as the primary recipient of Moscow’s weapons and training.
A satellite image of the Ilyushin-76 Candid at Libya’s al-Khadim airbase, used by Wagner on April 18, 2023
A July 2022 CNN investigation exposed deepening ties between Moscow and Sudan’s military leadership, who granted Russia access to the east African country’s gold riches in exchange for military and political support. The relationship began in earnest after Moscow’s 2014 invasion of Crimea, when Russia began to eye African gold riches as an avenue to circumvent a slew of Western sanctions.
The 2022 invasion of Ukraine and the wave of sanctions that followed accelerated Russia’s gold plunder in Sudan and further propped up military rule, increasing Wagner activity in the country.
On the day before Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Dagalo headed a Sudanese delegation in Moscow to “advance relations” between the two countries.
Smoke rises during clashes between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in Khartoum, Sudan on April 19, 2023.
Burhan and the Sudanese army also previously received backing from Russia. Burhan and Dagalo were allies before the start of the fighting. Together they led coups in 2019 and 2021. Both leaders were also previously backed by the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
Both Middle Eastern powerhouses have called for calm in Sudan, amid fears of broader regional repercussions.
Yet foreign actors are already beginning to intervene in the conflict. Egypt has a long-standing relationship with Burhan and has privately backed him in the power struggle, according to Sudanese and regional diplomatic sources. A group of Egyptian soldiers were captured by the RSF at a military airport in northern Sudan on the first day of the violence, and released days later.
In a statement to CNN, the RSF denied receiving aid from Russia and Libya. Neither Haftar nor Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin responded to CNN’s requests for comment.