One Year of Civil War in Sudan: What We Know About the Conflict

The forces of two rival generals have laid waste to Sudan for over a year, unleashing a wave of violence that has driven 9.2 million people from their homes and created the world’s largest displacement crisis.

Unless the fighting stops soon, Sudan could be hit by a devastating famine affecting millions of people, United Nations officials warn. But there is little prospect of the conflict ending any time soon.

The war has already reordered the country with breathtaking speed. The capital, Khartoum, has been transformed into a charred battleground of bullet-scarred buildings and bodies buried in shallow graves.

More than a third of Sudan’s 48 million people are acutely hungry, and nearly 230,000 malnourished children could die in the coming months if they don’t get food and health care, senior officials told the United Nations Security Council in March.

Dozens of hospitals and clinics have been shuttered, aid workers say. Schools and universities are closed in a country that once drew many foreign students. Looting is widespread, with hundreds of banks robbed and thousands of cars stolen.

Atrocities continue to mount in Darfur, the western region wracked by two decades of violence. Civilians have been slaughtered, aid camps and homes burned and refugees are fleeing in droves across the border into Chad, many vowing never to go home again.

As many as 150,000 people may have died from war-related causes, according to Tom Perriello, the United States envoy for Sudan, although precise figures are hard to establish because the Sudanese state is rapidly crumbling.

Of those forced to flee their homes, 7.1 million remain inside Sudan, according to the U.N. refugee agency. The 2.1 million others have fled to neighboring nations, including South Sudan, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia and the Central African Republic.

The continued clashes between the two generals’ competing forces — the regular army and a paramilitary group known as the Rapid Support Forces — have also dashed hopes that Sudan will usher in civilian rule anytime soon.

Here is a look at what is happening in Sudan.

The Rapid Support Forces dominate much of Khartoum, the capital, where fighting began in April 2023, as well as much of Darfur, the western region where the group’s leaders come from.

In December, the R.S.F. also captured Wad Madani, the capital of the breadbasket El Gezira state, in a major setback for the military.

But the pendulum swang back in February when the army recaptured the center of Omdurman, one of three cities that makes up the greater Khartoum urban area. The military also controls most of northern and eastern Sudan, including Port Sudan on the Red Sea.

The fiercest battles now are taking place in Darfur, where the Rapid Support Forces have been accused of numerous atrocities. The paramilitary group had encircled El Fasher, the last city in Darfur still held by the army, prompting loud warnings of possible ethnic slaughter.

Diplomatic efforts to reach a cease-fire, including some led by the United States, have not been successful. Humanitarian agencies are struggling to deliver aid, citing fighting, threats, blocked roads and tax requirements.

At a high-level donor conference in Paris in April, international donors pledged more than two billion euros (or over $2.1 billion) in aid for Sudan. But by June, the United Nations said, it had raised only $430 million of the $2.7 billion it needs for Sudan.

Before that, General al-Burhan had been a regional army commander in Darfur, where 300,000 people were killed and millions of others displaced in fighting from 2003 to 2008 that drew worldwide condemnation.

After civilians and the military signed a power-sharing agreement in 2019, General al-Burhan became the chairman of the Sovereignty Council, a body created to oversee Sudan’s transition to democratic rule. But as the date for the handover of control to civilians approached in late 2021, he proved unwilling to relinquish power.

General al-Burhan’s main rival is Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan, who leads the country’s Rapid Support Forces, a powerful paramilitary group.

Of humble origins, General Hamdan, widely known as Hemeti, rose to prominence as a commander of the notorious Janjaweed militias, which were responsible for the worst atrocities of the conflict in Darfur.

In October 2021, General al-Burhan and General Hamdan united to seize power in a military coup, making them effectively the leader and deputy leader of Sudan. But they soon fell out.

Many diplomats, including those from the United States, attempted to negotiate an agreement between the two generals that would see them hand power back to civilians.

However, they could not agree on how quickly the Rapid Support Forces would be absorbed into the army. In April 2023, after months of rising tensions, their troops went to war against each other.

Both leaders have traveled outside of Sudan in the past year to seek political support. General al-Burhan addressed the U.N. General Assembly, while General Hamdan traveled to several African nations. In a speech this April, General al-Burhan said that his forces were bent on fighting until victory.

Sudan, the third-largest African country by area, occupies a pivotal position on the continent. It has about 500 miles of coast on the Red Sea, one of the world’s busiest shipping routes. It is one of Africa’s largest gold producers, and its position on the Nile gives it enormous agricultural potential.

It also shares borders with seven countries — the Central African Republic, Chad, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Libya and South Sudan — many also threatened by instability.

As the war has dragged on, foreign powers have gotten involved, sending arms or fighters in the hope of backing a winner.

The biggest outside influence is the United Arab Emirates, which has secretly supplied weapons to the paramilitary forces through a base in Chad, The Times has reported. The Emiratis, who deny backing any side, say their operation is purely humanitarian.

Russia’s Wagner mercenaries also backed the R.S.F. with weapons in the early months of the war, U.N. and Sudanese official says. That prompted Ukraine to send special forces who have reportedly conducted operations alongside Sudan’s army in Khartoum.

But since Wagner was officially disbanded last year, the Russian government has warmed its relations with the Sudanese military. In May, a senior general said Sudan might permit Russian access to its Red Sea coast in exchange for weapons.

Sudan’s military is already receiving armed drones from Iran, according to western and Sudanese officials — a key factor in the army’s recent victories, but one that has caused alarm in Washington, the officials say.

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