Monday, December 23, 2019

The Sudanese Mercenaries

You can earn more money fighting in Yemen for six months than in a lifetime. This adage rages through the streets of Darfur, Sudan’s conflict-ridden western region, where a ruinous war more than 2,000km away in Yemen has become the country’s “biggest local employer”. Everyone knows someone who has signed up. At its peak between 2016- 2017, more than 40,000 Sudanese troops were believed to be fighting in some capacity in Yemen’s war, either within the country or along the border with Saudi Arabia. The RSF has fought on the frontline in Yemeni coastal towns such as Mokha.
The Gulf States has hired members of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a feared paramilitary group, and the Sudanese military to fight alongside Yemeni government troops against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels. Despite the dangers, the promises of unimaginable riches have driven tens of thousands of Darfur’s men, and boys, to the RSF’s recruitment centres. People had become so eager to make money that when a recruitment cycle opens, the centres receive 10 times the number of applications than the available places. Once signed up they go through sometimes as little as three months training before being sent to the front.

For a six-month deployment, RSF foot soldiers, who often hail from the poorest segments of society, can earn a million Sudanese pounds (around £17,000) – more money than they could ever hope to gather in a lifetime. Officers make double that. In Sudan, the minimum wage across the country is just $190 a month, but for farmers and goat herders it is considerably less. It is so lucrative people spoke of families signing up all their sons, even if some were as young as 14 years old.
“The war in Yemen has been the biggest employer in Darfur and is the main way out of poverty for the youth,” said one RSF captain, who returned from fighting in southwest Yemen at the start of the year. “It’s impossible to earn one million Sudanese pounds ever in your wildest dreams. It’s purely economic. Sudanese people wouldn’t be willing to go and fight in a completely different country for a cause they know nothing about.” 
Five years of wealthy, armed and trained fighters returning from Yemen has only ratcheted up tensions in Darfur, a region that has been ripped apart by at least 16 years of civil conflict. They fear the mercenary-like use of Darfuris has militarised an already war-torn population and strengthened the RSF, which is accused by rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty, of continuing to commit alleged war crimes. Those fears were most acute in Darfur’s displacement camps, home to hundreds of thousands of people forced to flee their villages by armed groups including the RSF.  The war in Yemen had further emboldened the militias. The Yemen war has also helped morph the RSF into the most powerful body in the country. It’s allowed them to expand into unrelated businesses and industries, including construction and gold.

No one knows how many Sudanese soldiers have been injured or killed in Yemen. 

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