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Rapid Support Forces (RSF) / al-Quwat al-Da'm al-Sari'

The Rapid Support Forces (RSF), in Arabic El Quwat El Da’m El Saree’, were previously known as Janjaweed, or government-backed militias. In 2013, they were rebranded as the RSF. While fighting the rebels in Darfur, the group was known for its brutality, and was accused by Human Rights Watch of inflicting "a campaign of forcible displacement, murder, pillage and rape on hundreds of thousands of civilians".

RSF was created in 2013 when the Government faced a spike in rebel activity in Darfur and in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile States (the Two Areas). The Government was seeking to regain control of increasingly restive Arab militias in Darfur and establish a new paramilitary unit distinct from the unreliable Musa Hilal.

The RSF troops reportedly number between 30,000 and 40,000. The vast majority of them are from Darfurian Arab tribes; the first batch was made up mostly of kinsmen of “Hemmeti” from the Mahariya branch of the Rezeigat. However, recruitment has recently been extended to Darfurian African tribes (including rebel defectors) and to areas outside Darfur, such as Southern Kordofan. Initially placed under NISS, RSF has been part of SAF since January 2017, while maintaining a distinct status.

In April 2019, disobedience in Sudan's Army spread from the bottom up when the order to crush peaceful protesters was issued, and when some soldiers and officers, such as colonel Hamid Othman Hamid, sided with protesters, leaving the top ranks little choice in the end but to sacrifice al-Bashir, their commander-in-chief, to save their own skin. After all, once it starts, insubordination can quickly turn, out of fear of regime retribution, into outright mutiny.

There are a number of reasons why the RSF, whose core fighters come from the violent war zone in Darfur, were handed control of Khartoum. First, the ruling Transitional Military Council (TMC) stopped trusting the army ranks. Second, being largely from outside the capital, the RSF would likely show no hesitation cracking down on strangers. Third, having already engaged in atrocities in Darfur and elsewhere, they could be more willing to obey orders no matter how ghastly.

Credible reports, based on video evidence and eyewitness accounts by survivors of the sit-in massacre, were bodies were thrown into the Nile, have painted a horrific picture of killings, beatings, burning of tents, and widespread rape - tools previously used by the genocidal Janjaweed against defenceless Darfuri villages. Inexplicably, even the University of Khartoum next door was ransacked.

Yet, the RSF retain regional, if not international support. Crucially, they are backed by both Saudi Arabia and the UAE, who want to ensure their continued participation in the catastrophic war in Yemen. Egypt, too, has shown its support, hoping the militia would be used to purge Islamists of the "former" Sudanese regime.

Add to that an often overlooked but valuable service that the RSF provide - namely controlling undocumented migration through Sudan to Europe. This might in part explain how Janjaweed leader Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (also known as Hemedti), a former camel trader accused of crimes against humanity, recently received top Western diplomats in his new lavish Khartoum office.

The force is commanded on the ground by Brig. General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, commonly known in Sudan as 'Hemeti'. Hemeti is a former Border Guard commander and Janjaweed militia leader. He is the nephew of Juma Dagalo, the traditional chief of the Awlad Mansour section of the Mahariya clan of the Abbala (camel-herders) Rizeigat Arabs. Hemeti reported to NISS Maj. Gen. Abbas Abdelaziz, based in Khartoum. Overall command is said to reside with NISS Director General Ali El Nasih El Galla.

Hilal’s cousin, Muhammad Hamdan Daglo “Hemetti,” is a member of the Mahariya branch of the northern Rizayqat and Hilal’s former Janjaweed deputy. Daglo led the government’s 2017 disarmament campaign in Darfur, intended to confiscate weapons held by civilians, rebel groups and government-controlled militias such as the Popular Defense Forces (PDF) and the Central Reserve Police (CRP). The RSF deployed 10,000 men and an armored regiment in North Darfur to deal with the threat posed by Hilal and his followers.

Uncontrolled elements of Mohammed Hamdan Dagolo, alias “Hemmeti”, head of the Rapid Support Force of the Sudan, were also reportedly involved in arms trafficking into the Central African Republic.

Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Daglo (Hemeti), who apologized for taking part in the transitional military junta, stressed his demand for six conditions to meet the Sudanese people’s demands, including the establishment of special anti-corruption courts. Hemeti said in a statement 13 Aprik 2019 that developments of the events require that the crisis be addressed in a way that satisfies the Sudanese people and puts the country back on track. He stressed the need to open dialogue with various segments of society, and organize meetings with leaders and heads of political parties, Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), youth leaders and leaders of civil society organizations, and setting a transitional period of no more than three to six months, during which the constitution will be revised through a drafting committee with the participation of all Sudanese forces.

The (RSF) leader also called for the establishment of public courts and prosecution to combat corruption and to hold fair elections, in accordance with international local control and in accordance with an election law agreed between the stakeholders. He pledged that the Rapid Support Forces (RSF would defend the country and the people with the rest of the armed forces.

General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known by his nickname Hemeti, was appointed deputy leader of the ruling military council, according to Sudanese state television. Footage showed Hemeti, who commands the paramilitary unit Rapid Support Forces (RSF), being sworn in 13 April 2019. Since becoming deputy chairman of the Transitional Military Council that toppled former President Omar al-Bashir, Hemitte had been engaged in intensive meetings with Western ambassadors to clarify the council’s view in running the two-year interim period. The deputy chairman of the Transitional Military Council, Lieutenant General Mohamed Hamdan (Hemitte), continued his meetings with ambassadors accredited to the Sudan. Hemitte briefed the ambassadors on the circumstances and developments in the country and briefed them on the reasons that led to the formation of a transitional military council for this phase, the role of the Council and the steps and measures taken to preserve the safety and security of the Sudan.

The Sudanese ruling transitional military council’s deputy head said that the Sudanese forces backing the Yemeni legitimate government against the pro-Iranian Houthi militia will remain in Yemen, Sudan news agency (SUNA) reported on 15 April 2019. General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo - widely known as Himeidti - said in a statement to SUNA: “We are adhering to our commitment to the coalition, and our forces will remain until the coalition fulfils its goals.”

A decade before, in 2008 in South Darfur, break-away groups from former Arab opposition leader Mohamed Hamdan ("Hemeti") had only a small force of approximately six vehicles near Tulus. UN sources saw former Hemeti fighters as responsible for recent security incidents near Firdus.

The RSF is only nominally under the SAF; in fact it reports directly to the president. The RSF continued to play a significant role in government campaigns against rebel movements and was implicated in the majority of reports of human rights violations against civilians. The government tightly controlled information about the RSF, and public criticism of the RSF often resulted in arrest or detention.

The burning of villages, killing of civilians, looting, rape and abduction of women and girls, and forced displacement of thousands are the hallmarks of RSF [Rapid Support Forces] incursions into armed opposition-held areas in Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile states. The systematic stripping of the assets of the targeted populations, particularly livestock, appears to be intended to undermine livelihoods and dignity and condemn the people of these areas to lasting destitution.

The RSF is under the command of the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS), which is accountable to the Sudanese President. The RSF militia was created in 2013 specifically to fight armed rebel groups throughout Sudan. Members of the RSF have been issued NISS identity cards. These IDs ensure them immunity under the National Security Services Act of 2010. In January 2015, a constitutional amendment gave the RSF the status of 'regular force'. In early 2017, the Sudanese parliament approved a bill recognising the RSF as special forces. They were supposed to report directly to President Omar al-Bashir, who was wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide and war crimes committed in Darfur.

The paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) are accountable for widespread systematic crimes against civilians, constituting ‘egregious crimes’ against humanity and war crimes, Human Rights Watch (HRW) published in the 2015 report 'Men with no Mercy'.

The commander of Sudanese troops known as Rapid Support Force (RSF) Maj. Gen. Abbas Abdulaziz said that troop movements in operation zones and other areas is not a mandate of the governors stressed but is under the purview of Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) General Command. RSF were formed to help SAF in its military campaign which began last August through recruitment of troops from several states. Abdulaziz emphasized in an interview with pro-government Ashorooq TV that RSF are present in the field to finish up the summer plan in Darfur states to crush the rebels and then return to complete the remaining tasks assigned to it by SAF in coordination with other military divisions.

More than 10 years since armed conflict began in 2003, violence persists in the Darfur region, with government-rebel clashes increasing in 2013. Peace treaties signed in 2006, 2011 and 2013 have failed to end the fighting. Violence and displacement increased in Darfur in 2014 with the arrival of the government's Rapid Support Forces (RSF), who perpetrated attacks on armed groups, but were also accused of attacking civilians and their properties, raiding and burning numerous villages.

The members of the RSF had been drawn from paramilitary forces, notably the Border Guards, and other government-backed militia groups, including a variety of proxy militias, commonly known as janjaweed. These were armed by the government at the start of the conflict in Darfur and were the primary perpetrators of brutal attacks on non-Arab civilians, the activist group the Enough Project stated in January 2014. According to several sources, including Major-General Abdelaziz, the majority of the RSF troops are Darfuris recruited by Hemeti in September and October 2013.

Ethnic Nuba have also reportedly been recruited into the RSF. Civilians who have heard members of the RSF speaking claim that some of the fighters speak foreign dialects of Arabic, which they believe to be Chadian and Nigerian.

The RSF consists of at least five to six thousand troops, but the number might have grown. The about 6,000, mainly young, recruits were to be trained as paramilitary troops in camps near Khartoum, in order to fight along with the Sudanese army in South Kordofan. Large numbers of these militiamen were stationed in the area near El Obeid, capital of North Kordofan, from the end of 2013 onwards. After assaulting El Obeid's citizens, they were expelled in February 2014, and re-stationed in Darfur, reportedly to fight rebel groups. The North Kordofan governor then explained that the forces were called Rapid Support Forces, belonging to the operations body of the NISS.

The war over autonomy and resources, such as water and land rights, as well as control over gold mines, between various armed groups and the government continued. The government employed its regular armed forces, the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Sudanese Air Force, as well as the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), mostly comprising the so-called Janjaweed and the Popular Defence Forces (PDF).

During government offensives in Darfur in 2014-2015, the Rapid Support Forces led massive attacks on hundreds of villages, burning and destroying homes, and committing serious abuses, including rape and killings that may be crimes against humanity. Government forces also launched a major offensive with ground and air forces on Jebel Mara in 2016, destroying hundreds of villages and displacing up to 195,000 people.

In 2016 and 2017, attacks were perpetrated by Sudanese armed forces, including the Janjaweed and Rapid Support Forces, against helpless internally displaced people. In January 2016, Sudan’s armed forces, including the Rapid Support Forces and allied militia, launched coordinated ground and air attacks on populated villages in Jebel Marra, the rebel stronghold in Central Darfur. These attacks continued for much of the year, following Sudan’s ‘Operation Decisive Summer’ campaigns in Darfur in 2014 and 2015.

On 06 January 2018, in El Geneina, West Darfur, Rapid Support Forces (RSF) used live ammunition against a large group of high school and university students protesting poor economic conditions in front of the regional governor’s office. Several students were severely wounded and 19-year-old student Alzubair Ahmed Alsukairan died from a gunshot wound to the chest. The governor promised the police would investigate the student’s death. As of year’s end, no information on the investigation had been made public. In response to protests that broke out on December 19 and spread throughout the country, security forces fired live ammunition in Gadaref city, Atbara city, and the Al haj Youssef neighborhood in Khartoum, resulting in credible reports of at least 30 deaths.

On 12 April 2019 the commander of the government militia Rapid Support Forces (RSF) Mohamed Hamdan Daglo (aka Hemitte) refused to participate in the Transitional Military Council which took over power following the ouster of former President Omer al-Bashir. On 11 April 2019, the Defence Minister and First Vice- President Awad Ibn Ouf overthrew President Omer al-Bashir and announced his arrest in a safe place. He said the Supreme Security Committee, including the armed forces, the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS), RSF and the police took full responsibility for changing the whole regime during a two-year transitional period.

In a statement published on the RSF webpage on 12 April 2019, Hemitte said: “I’d like to announce to the Sudanese people that I, in my capacity as commander of the RSF, have refused to participate in the military council since 11 April”. He pointed out that RSF would remain part of the armed forces and would work to maintain the unity of the country and respect for human rights. Hemitte added his forces would continue to side with the choices of the Sudanese people.

The commander issued a statement in which he stressed support for the people’s demand of handing over power to a civil transitional government, saying the RSF rejects any solutions that don’t meet the desires of the Sudanese people. He also asked the leaders of the Sudanese Professionals Association and the various opposition parties and the youth to open the door of dialogue and engage in negotiations to achieve solutions that satisfy the desire of the people and protects the country against from sliding into chaos.

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Page last modified: 24-07-2019 19:20:41 ZULU