FAST FACTS: Who are Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces?


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FAST FACTS: Who are Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces?

RSF HEAD. Deputy head of Sudan's sovereign council General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo speaks during a press conference at Rapid Support Forces head quarter in Khartoum, Sudan February 19, 2023.

Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah//File Photo/REUTERS

Analysts estimate the force numbers about 100,000, with bases and deployments across Sudan

KHARTOUM, Sudan – Here are some facts about Sudan’s main paramilitary group, the Rapid Support Forces, which said on Saturday, April 15, it had taken control of the presidential palace and the country’s international airport in an apparent coup attempt. It accused the army of attacking first; the military said it was fighting back.

The RSF is commanded by General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, who currently holds the position of deputy head of Sudan’s ruling Sovereign Council, and who is commonly known as Hemedti. Analysts estimate the force numbers about 100,000, with bases and deployments across the country.

It evolved from so-called janjaweed militias that fought in a conflict in the 2000s in the Darfur region, where they were used by the government of long-ruling President Omar al-Bashir to help the army put down a rebellion. An estimated 2.5 million people were displaced and 300,000 killed in the conflict. International Criminal Court prosecutors accused government officials and janjaweed commanders of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

Over time the forces grew, and were used as border guards in particular to clamp down on irregular migration. In tandem, Hemedti’s business interests grew with help from Bashir, and his family expanded holdings in gold mining, livestock, and infrastructure.

Beginning in 2015, the RSF, along with Sudan’s army, began sending troops to fight in the war in Yemen alongside Saudi and Emirati troops, allowing Hemedti to forge ties with the Gulf powers.

In 2017, a law legitimizing the RSF as an independent security force was passed. Military sources said that the army’s leadership had long expressed concern about the development of Hemedti’s forces.

In April 2019, the RSF participated in a military coup that ousted Bashir. Later that year, Hemedti signed a power-sharing agreement that made him deputy of a ruling council headed by army general Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.

Before the signing in 2019, activists accused the RSF of participating in killing dozens of pro-democracy protesters. Rights groups have also accused RSF soldiers of tribal violence. Hemedti removed immunity from some, allowing for their prosecution. Last year, he apologized for crimes by the state against the Sudanese people, without elaborating.

The RSF participated in a coup in October 2021 that halted the transition to elections. Hemedti has since said he regrets the coup and has expressed approval for a new deal to restore full civilian government.

The Sudanese army as well as pro-democracy groups have demanded the RSF’s integration into the regular armed forces.

Negotiations on this have been a source of tension that has delayed a final signing of a deal, originally scheduled for April 1, for a new government and a transition towards elections. –

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