On Monday, 29 May 2023, the Strategic Studies Unit at the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies held a symposium titled “Militia vs Army? Military Developments in the Sudanese Crisis”, with participation from retired Brigadier-General and delegated lecturer at Joaan Bin Jassim Academy for Defence Studies and Ahmed bin Mohammed Military College, Mohamed Zein Ahmad; retired Major General and former director of the National Defence College, Nimiry Military Academy, Osama Abdelsalam; and Professor of Cyber Defence Studies at Joaan Bin Jassim Academy for Defence Studies, Fathelalem Ali Hija, in addition to Arab Center Researcher, Aicha Elbasri. The session was moderated by Sidahmed Goudjili, Assistant Professor of Critical Security Studies at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies.
In the first intervention, Mohamed Zein Ahmad sought to answer two main questions: First, how can the current crisis be defined; Is it an armed rebellion, a civil war, a proxy war, or something else? And second, what are the institutional and organizational backgrounds and map of each of the Sudanese regular armed forces and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF)? He pointed out that the basic roots of the conflict between the Sudanese army and the RSF arose first from the complexities of integrating the latter into the regular army, and the resultant dilemma of command and control between them, especially since the RSF entertain political ambition that goes beyond Sudanese borders. The RSF have sought to overthrow the current head of the state and head of the Sudanese Sovereign Council Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, to facilitate Hemedti’s monopolization of power.
Speaking next, Osama Abdelsalam explored the future of the military crisis. He looked at prospects for arming the parties to the conflict, local and foreign support, and their capabilities to fight in cities and built-up areas. Abdesalam questioned the likelihood that one of the parties will manage to settle the conflict militarily, or will the war become protracted? He noted that Hemedti's goal in his war, as Hemedti hismelf stated on Al-Jazeera live on 15 April 2023 is to arrest Al-Burhan and his aides and bring them to justice, accusing him of carrying out a coup in favour of the former regime. Abdelsalam believes that the RSF have failed to achieve their military goal, despite reaching Al-Burhan’s residence on 17 April and despite its substantial equipment and personnel. He touched on the issue of popular support, noting that the current crisis has bridged the gap between the Sudanese people and the national army, as it now enjoys popular support, in contrast to the RSF, which has committed many crimes and human rights violations against civilians, including raiding homes, looting, kidnap and rape. The RSF also includes many foreign elements from countries such as Chad, Mali, and Niger.
Aicha Elbasri spoke next, providing an explanation for the persistence of the RSF against the National army, by defining the nature of the Sudanese army as a regime army more than a regular army, and clarifying the background of its relationship with the RSF in the context of the militia policy that it continues to pursue. She noted that it is more correct to talk about an army versus militias, not one single militia in the Sudanese case, as the regime has pursued a militia strategy since 1983 against tribal militia, then the Popular Defense Forces in 1989, the Border Guard (Janjaweed) in 2003, and the Central Reserve Police (Abu Tira) in 2006, up to the RSF in 2017 with the Rapid Support Act that delineated the relationship between them and the army.
In the fourth intervention, Fathelalem Ali Hija, focused on cyberwarfare and hybrid warfare in the current armed conflict in Sudan, where the warring parties are engaged in an information war that goes hand in hand with military operations on the ground, represented in noticing a big difference between the facts on the ground and what is reported in the media and the information conflict between activists on social media platforms.
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