“Khalifa Haftar, the commander of a faction that controls eastern Libya, dispatched at least one plane to fly military supplies to Sudan’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces”
Source: Wall Street Journal
Involvement of regional forces raises risk that fighting between warring Sudanese generals could widen and set back cease-fire efforts
Summer Said and
April 19, 2023 1:03 pm ET
A powerful Libyan militia leader and the Egyptian military have sent military support to rival generals battling for control of neighboring Sudan, people familiar with the matter say, an illustration of how the fighting threatens to draw in regional powers.
Khalifa Haftar, the commander of a faction that controls eastern Libya, dispatched at least one plane to fly military supplies to Sudan’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, these people said. Meanwhile, Egypt sent warplanes and pilots to back the Sudanese military, they added.
The involvement of outside forces raises the risk of a dangerous escalation in the fighting that could widen the conflict and undermine efforts by the U.S., the United Nations and others to mediate a cease-fire.
Sudan’s strategic position on the Red Sea, its access to the Nile River and vast gold reserves have long been coveted by outside powers. Since toppling Sudan’s longtime dictator, Omar al-Bashir, in 2019, the two warring generals have used these assets to build alliances with regional and global powers that have an interest in the outcome of their battle for military and political supremacy.
On Wednesday, the Sudanese military led by Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the country’s de facto leader, continued to strike the positions of the Rapid Support Forces, a state-sponsored militia led by Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo. The airstrikes, along with intense street battles between the two rival factions, have thrown Sudan’s capital Khartoum, a metropolis on the Nile River, into chaos.
The World Health Organization says at least 296 people have been killed and more than 3,000 injured since fighting began on Saturday. Millions remain trapped in their homes with diminishing supplies of water and food, and hospitals are unable to treat the wounded.
As international pressure grew in recent months for Gens. Burhan and Dagalo to hand power to a civilian government, the two generals jostled over the integration of the RSF into the regular military and the ownership of swaths of Sudan’s economy controlled by the two factions. They are now locked in a lethal struggle for political and military supremacy over the country of more than 45 million people.
Mr. Haftar, who is backed by Russia and the United Arab Emirates, sent at least one shipment of ammunition on Monday from Libya to Sudan to replenish supplies for Gen. Dagalo, the people familiar with the matter said. The Sudanese army said Monday that Gen. Dagalo was mobilizing a large force at a northern air base “to secure the landing of a military aid plane from regional sides.”
Gen. Dagalo and Mr. Haftar have come to each other’s aid before. The Sudanese commander sent fighters to assist the Libyan militia leader as Mr. Haftar launched a failed attempt to seize Libya’s capital Tripoli from the internationally-recognized government in 2019.
Both men have allied with the U.A.E., which assisted Mr. Haftar militarily to fight political rivals and hired Gen. Dagalo’s men to fight in Yemen. The two have also worked with the Kremlin-backed private military contractor Wagner. Mr. Haftar hosts the paramilitaries at his bases in Libya, and Gen. Dagalo has struck lucrative gold mining partnerships with the group, which is headed by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian businessman and close associate of President Vladimir Putin.
There was no immediate indication that Mr. Haftar’s involvement in Sudan was backed by Russia or the U.A.E.
Spokespeople for Gen. Burhan, Mr. Haftar and the Egyptian and Emirati foreign ministries didn’t return requests for comment. A public-relations official for Gen. Dagalo couldn’t immediately comment.
Egypt, which has officially called for an end to the fighting, sent jet fighters just before the fighting started and additional pilots soon after to support Gen. Burhan, the people said. A Sudanese army official said one Egyptian jet fighter destroyed an ammunition depot controlled by Gen. Dagalo on Monday afternoon.
“If you are a neighbor looking at the violence and you have the risk of a warlord taking over, it makes sense from an Egyptian perspective to get involved,” said Cameron Hudson, a former chief of staff to the U.S. special envoy for Sudan who is now a senior associate at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Over the weekend, Gen. Dagalo’s men detained Egyptian troops that had been deployed at a Sudanese base, suspecting they could intervene to back Gen. Burhan. They later transferred them to Khartoum, where the Sudanese air force has been striking RSF positions, these people said. They noted that the detained Egyptian soldiers included military intelligence officers. Egyptian planes already in the facility that had been heavily damaged were also seized.
Cairo has long backed Gen. Burhan, a key ally for Egypt in its dispute with Ethiopia, which is expanding a giant dam that the Sisi government says threatens to choke off the waters that run into the Nile.
The coup led by Gen. Burhan, which halted Sudan’s democratic transition in October 2021, was greenlighted by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, The Wall Street Journal has previously reported.