Sudanese army and Rapid Support Forces clash over territory

Thursday April 13 2023
Members of Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces on patrol.

Members of Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF) on patrol. The Sudanese Armed Forces have clashed with RSF over their roles. PHOTO | ASHRAF SHAZLY | AFP


Sudan’s main security arms have clashed over mandate, signalling deeper divisions within the ruling junta led by Lt-Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.

The dispute arose on Wednesday after the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), an elite paramilitary force, deployed troops in Meroe, north of Khartoum in what the Sudanese military said was a violation of their mandate.

The army said the deployment was made without the approval of the leadership of the armed forces and neither was there coordination with the army. The move raised panic and fear among citizens, who have so far endured uncertainty as the junta fails to reach a deal with civilian movements on the formation of a new transition government.

A statement from the spokesman of the Sudanese Armed Forces said on Thursday that the Rapid Support Forces moved troops in the capital and nearby states without notifying him, even though the RSF denied the claim.

Political transition

“We renew our adherence to what was agreed upon in support of the political transition, and we warn political forces against outbidding the position of the armed forces,” the army said in its statement.


The Rapid Support Forces operate under the command of Mohamed Hamdan Daglo (Hemedti), the deputy chairperson of the Sudan Sovereign Council, the junta leadership. Technically, it serves under the wider leadership of Lt-Gen al-Burhan.

The RSF were formed to fight the militants in western Darfur. Currently, their main duty is to protect the borders and certain areas of the country.

Established in 2013, the RSF are affiliated with the Security and Intelligence Service, and there are no official estimates of their number even though sources say they could be in tens of thousands.

Unified national army

On Wednesday, Lt-Gen al-Burhan said that his country's stability is based on the establishment of a unified national army, through the implementation of the reform of the security system.

The defiance by the RSF may indicate a general clash between Burhan and Hemedti. In political circles, Hemedti has pulled strings both locally and internationally, including his trips to Moscow.

A military source said armed forces demanded that the RSF withdraw from its new position in Meroe within 24 hours, or be forced out. Footage also showed reinforcements from the Sudanese army arriving in Meroe on Wednesday evening.

At least 100 military vehicles belonging to the Rapid Support Forces could be seen near Meroe airport. But the RSF spokesperson's office said that some social media outlets had circulated false information that they had taken over Meroe airport.

In a statement, the office explained that the RSF are “national forces operating within the framework of the law in full coordination and in harmony with the leadership of the armed forces and the rest of the other regular forces”.

‘Presence normal’

RSF said its presence in the northern states and in the city of Meroe is as normal as is its presence in the rest of the states, within the framework of performing its tasks and duties that extend to the desert.

It added that its presence in the northern state and in the city of Meroe comes within the framework of performing its tasks and duties that extend to the desert.

The RSF, in the statement, called on the public and the media not to be swayed by what it described as false information aimed at spreading sedition and undermine the security and stability of the homeland.

Citizens protest

Following the news of RSF’s deployment, some Sudanese civilians demonstrated in front of a Sudanese army barracks in Merowe district on Wednesday evening, chanting slogans in support of the army. A video circulating on social media showed the commander of a Sudanese army division in the area addressing citizens and assuring them that the situation was under control.

The dispute may signal further delays in the transition to civilian rule. On April 5, the parties to the political process, including the junta and civilian movements, “indefinitely” postponed the signing of the final agreement due to the continuation of talks between the military parties.

This is the second postponement of the signing of the final political agreement, which was scheduled for April 6. It had earlier been scheduled for the beginning of the same month, but the differences between the army and the Rapid Support Forces have caused the delays.