In recent years, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been providing arms to both the Rapid Support Force (RSF) and the Sudanese Army, which have been involved in conflicts within Sudan. This has raised concerns over the UAE’s role in the conflict and its impact on the region’s stability.
The RSF is a paramilitary force formed in 2013 and is part of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF). Its primary objective is to maintain internal security and combat terrorism in Sudan. However, the force has been accused of committing human rights abuses against civilians in the Darfur region and other parts of the country.
The Sudanese Army, on the other hand, is the main branch of the SAF and is responsible for defending the country’s borders and maintaining internal security. The army has also been involved in conflicts within Sudan, including the ongoing conflict in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan regions.
According to reports, the UAE has been supplying arms to both the RSF and the Sudanese Army since 2014. These weapons reportedly include small arms, ammunition, and armoured vehicles. The UAE has also reportedly trained members of the RSF in the use of these weapons.
Weapons supplied to both sides include Zastava-produced M05 rifles, Nimr Ajbans armoured vehicles (for the RSF), and Calidus MCAV (for the Sudanese Army), Also, On Tuesday, footage emerged of thermobaric shells apparently supplied by the United Arab Emirates to the RSF and captured by the military. Video showing crates of the 120mm thermobaric airdrop shells with markings suggesting they were manufactured in Serbia in 2020 and later supplied to the UAE.
The UAE’s support for the RSF and the Sudanese Army has drawn criticism from human rights organizations and other groups, who have accused the UAE of contributing to the conflict and the human rights abuses committed by these forces. The UAE has defended its actions, stating that it is committed to maintaining peace and stability in the region.
The UAE’s involvement in the conflict in Sudan is not new. The country has been involved in the conflict in Yemen since 2015, where it has been supporting the Saudi-led coalition with weapons and military personnel. The UAE has also been involved in the conflict in Libya, where it has supported the Libyan National Army.
According to Bellingcat, Sudanese army troops and RSF have fought alongside both Emirati and Saudi forces in Yemen. Primarily this happened in the southern part of Yemen. However, Sudanese forces were also deployed to the Saudi border to prevent incursions from Houthi fighters. According to the BBC, the leader of the RSF, and former leader of the janjaweed, Mohamed Hamdan “Hemeti” Dagolo, was responsible for sending units to guard the Saudi-Yemen border.
In 2015, the Sudanese government agreed to send a battalion of regular forces commanded by Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan to serve with the Saudi-Emirati coalition forces in Yemen. However, the UAE later struck a separate deal with Hemedti to send a much larger force of RSF fighters to combat in south Yemen and along the Tahama plain, including the port city of Hudaydah, which saw intense fighting the previous year. Hemedti also supplied units to help guard the Saudi Arabian border with Yemen. As a result, the RSF’s strength grew tenfold, with all its generals being Darfurian Arabs who shared the Dagolo name. With a force of 70,000 men and over 10,000 armed pick-up trucks, the RSF became Sudan’s de facto infantry and the only force capable of controlling the streets of the capital, Khartoum, and other cities.
Since December 2018, Nyala a city in Darfur was the main departure point for troops from Sudan to Saudi Arabia. The Darfur region in general has been a recruiting ground for the RSF.
Also, an investigative finding by Global Witness shows that the RSF bought over 1,000 vehicles during the first six months of 2019, from dealers in the UAE. The shipments included over 900 Toyota Hilux and Land Cruisers, models which the RSF frequently converts into ‘technicals’ – 4×4 military vehicles mounted with machine guns. The militia received over 150mn Dirham (US $40 million) ‘for technical support’ from an unknown source, and used over 111mn Dirham (US $30 million) of that to purchase vehicles and communications equipment.
The UAE’s role in the conflicts in Sudan, Yemen, and Libya has raised concerns over its ambitions in the region and its impact on the stability of these countries. The country’s actions have also drawn criticism from other countries, including the United States, which has expressed concern over the UAE’s human rights record.
The sale of arms to Sudan’s warring parties would undermine the UAE’s credibility as a neutral mediator.
“The assertion by Washington that the UAE is a partner in pursuing peace in Sudan as part of the Quad must increasingly be looked at with scepticism,” said Cameron Hudson, a former CIA officer and Sudan expert.
The Quad is the UK, US, Saudi and UAE, a group that tried to restore civilian rule after the Sudanese military and the RSF carried out a coup in 2021.
The UAE’s supply of arms to both the RSF and the Sudanese Army has raised concerns over its role in the conflict and its impact on the region’s stability. While the UAE has defended its actions, its involvement in multiple conflicts in the region has drawn criticism and calls for greater transparency and accountability. As the conflict in Sudan continues, it remains to be seen how the UAE’s actions will affect the situation on the ground and in the wider region.