20 Years Of Imperialist Proxy Wars Waged On Sudan Divided It And Turned It Into A Top Exporter of Mercenaries And Child Soldiers
Sudanese Mercenaries in Libya and Yemen
by Ben Barbour ANC Report
This week hundreds of new Sudanese mercenaries were recruited by General Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) to provide assistance in their push to capture Tripoli from the Government of National Accord (GNA). The push stalled on December 15th and turned into an aerial assault and shelling campaign. The LNA will soon attempt another push to dislodge the GNA. Sudanese cannon fodder will be the main ground force. This is nothing new. Sudanese mercenaries have long been the main foreign ground force in Libya. In late July, Haftar recruited at least 1000 foreign fighters from Sudan, most likely on the UAE’s payroll. There is also evidence of the GNA recruiting foreigners to fight alongside their ranks.
The biggest foreign user of Sudanese mercenaries is the Saudi coalition in Yemen. Saudi Arabia and the UAE recruited 40,000 foreign fighters from Darfur, most of whom are Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary fighters. The RSF, which officially formed in 2013, were originally the Janjaweed militia from Western Sudan. At the behest of President Omar al Bashir, they were used as paramilitary death squads that committed mass war crimes in Darfur during the mid-2000s. The crushing poverty in the war-ravaged Darfurarea made desperate children easy targets for Saudi Arabia and the UAE to recruit. In 2018, the New York Times interviewed multiple Sudanese mercenaries that had recently returned from Yemen. According to the foreign fighters “children made up at least 20 percent of their units. Two said children were more than 40 percent” of the paramilitary units being paid by Saudi Arabia and the UAE to fight the Houthis.
As a side note, it was confirmed that at least 10,000 of these mercenaries left in October, with a steady trend of withdrawals continuing throughout November and December. The Sudanese groups are gradually leaving as the Saudi coalition falls apart and Saudi realizes that throwing more money at their Houthi problem won’t solve it. Also, this is partially a political move by Sudan. Omar al-Bashir was the one who wanted to cut a deal with Saudi Arabia: child soldiers for Saudi’s war in Yemen in return for Saudi’s help influencing the United States to lift sanctions on Sudan. The sanctions against Bashir, which the US claimed were about his financing of terrorism, were actually about his relationship with China and Iran. In an attempt to get them removed, Bashir turned on Iran and started fueling the US backed war in Yemen. Once Omar al-Bashir was removed from office in April, it was reasonable to assume Sudan’s entanglement in Yemen might wind down.
At face value, it would appear that the increased use of Sudanese mercenaries and child soldiers can simply be attributed to the recent recruitment policies of Saudi Arabia and the UAE. This is partially true, but it’s an incomplete understanding of the crisis. China, the United States, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Israel, Iran, Qatar, and Turkey’s imperial ambitions in Sudan and South Sudan are all to blame for the current situation.Strategic positioning concerns between Iran, Israel, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia are one of the reasons for the crisis in Sudan, but the main catalyst is a power struggle between China and the United States to control Sudan’s oil reserves and maritime shipment positioning in the Red Sea. Both world superpowers poured in either weapons or military assistance to factions that used death squads and armed child soldiers in Darfur and/or South Sudan.
The Role of China (and Iran)
China, and primarily the United States, try to gain footholds in oil and resource rich areas in Africa through loan schemes (and by backing loyal dictators). The US’s loan system, run through the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, has higher interest rates and is more predatory, but China also has a similar scheme in building influence in Africa.China National Petroleum Corporation was one of the largest investors in Sudan’s oil industry, and China has been Sudan’s largest importer of oil since 1999 (with a couple of rare exceptions). During the last 15 years, China has controlled anywhere between 55-75% of Sudan’s oil investments. China also provided five billion in loans to Sudan between 2000 and 2011. Some of the loans did actual good and had low interest rates. One example of this is the loans for the Khartoum-Sudan port railroad, which now carries two thirds of Sudan’s rail traffic.
Despite giving out significantly less predatory loans than the IMF, and doing some legitimate infrastructure projects, China still followed the standard imperialist playbook when the war in Darfur broke out in 2003.President Omar al-Bashir was not able to put down the Sudan Liberation Movement’s rebellion in Darfur (that had outside support from Uganda) with the Sudanese military, so he turned to a paramilitary group known as Janjaweed. As stated earlier, the Janjaweed later went on to form the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), who are currently being used in Yemen and Libya. During the war in Darfur, Bashir was relatively isolated and required outside assistance from China (and to a much lesser extent Iran) to traffic in weapons and ammunition to paramilitary groups like Janjaweed/RSF. In 2004/2005, the UN passed Security Council Resolutions1556 and 1591 that imposed arms embargoes on all groups operating in West, South and North Darfur. This included the Janjaweed/RSF death squads. There have been multiple allegations that China proceeded to break the embargo. Some of these claims are absurd and some are credible. One of the more credible examples comes from a study done by Small Arms Survey. They found that “the majority of the Sudanese government’s total self-reported imports of small arms and light weapons, their ammunition, and ‘conventional weapons’ over the period originated in China (58%), while about 13% originated from Iran.”As a side note, this study also debunked the allegation that Russia broke the arms embargoes. In general, allegations that Russia broke the Darfur arms embargoes have substantially less evidence, and may just be flat out false.
The United States was one of the biggest critics of the role China played during the War in Darfur. Through Colin Powell at the UN, and western NGOs, they described what happened in Darfur as a genocide. This is a misuse of the term. The total death toll was large, at 300,000, but there is no reliable accounting for how many of the causalities were Sudanese government/paramilitary versus how much were Sudan Liberation Movement causalities. It is fair to say that Bashir’s side carried out most of the killing and that he committed war crimes and atrocities via paramilitary death squads. It is also likely that this would not have been possible without China’s help. China’s diplomatic support of Omar al-Bashir along with their weapons transfers into Darfur made the disaster possible.
The Role of the United States (and Israel)
So, what’s the US’ hypocrisy? When the United States backed the partition of Sudan in 2011, which created South Sudan, they fully endorsed South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir Mayardit. They even established an embassy in South Sudan on the same day.In late 2011, President Kiir began consolidating power, torturing and murdering journalists, using child soldiers, and creating his own death squads, just like Omar al-Bashir did with Janjaweed/RSF in Darfur.In early 2012, as a part of Operation Restore Peace, Kiir’s government security forces carried out the torture and murder of civilians, some of whom were only 18 months old.In 2013, the South Sudan Civil War broke out between President Kiir’s SPLA and rebels in the SPLM-IO led by warlord Riek Machar. 400,000 people were killed, and there were multiple credible accusations of both President Kiir and Riek Machar utilizing death squads.
What was the United States doing prior to the civil war? Obama declared South Sudan eligible for military assistance. The State Department, run by Hillary Clinton, was maintaining military assistance to President Kiir’s SPLA, despite his government’s failing of the US’ own recently passed Child Soldier Prevention Act (CSPA).In 2012, the US gave South Sudan $620 million in assistance, and in 2013 they gave them $556 million in assistance. This included between 40-60 million annually in military assistance, in the form of “security sector reform aid” (training the military). US military assistance was cut off in 2014/2015, but the Obama administration proceeded to express concern about implementing weapons embargoes at the UN.After the UN passed multiple weapons embargoes on South Sudan, the US continued to flood weapons into South Sudan via allies like Uganda.
Two years ago, despite no change in US policy, the US’ United Nations ambassador virtue signaled about President Kiir’s crimes. John Bolton also followed suit in 2018. However, Trump’s State Department under Pompeo kept military assistance flowing, in the form of training and education,despite South Sudan failing the Child Soldier Prevention Act. This happened in 2017, 2018, and 2019. What this change in rhetoric does signal is that the US may be looking to dump President Kiir. The original motive for splitting up Sudan was to weaken China’s influence over the oil reserves. In 2010, before Sudan was partitioned, it had the 20th largest oil reserves in the world. The conflict was never about the US stealing oil for itself, the US does not need Sudan’s oil reserves. It was always about preventing adversaries like China from having access to Sudan’s oil reserves. Although most of the oil refining and transportation technology is in Sudan, 75% of the oil reserves are in South Sudan. South Sudan’s independence, coupled with the civil war in 2013, disrupted Chinese control of the oil reserves.
China began arming President Kiir as well, creating an odd situation where the US and China were channeling weapons to the same death squads, as both countries tried to obtain a loyal puppet in South Sudan. Recently, it looks like China is winning the battle by providing low interest rate loans to Kiir’s government in exchange for a large stake in South Sudan’s oil. Furthermore, via Sudan’s petroleum company, Great Nile Petroleum Operating Company (which China owns 40% of), China is able to keep the oil flowing out of South Sudan and export it via infrastructure China built in Sudan. Despite disagreements with the Sudanese government, South Sudan is happy to transport their oil through this venture because oil revenue is 98% of South Sudan’s government budget. China outmaneuvered the US’ tactic of splitting up Sudan’s oil reserves from its refineries. Because the US still labels Sudan a sponsor of terrorism, US companies can’t extract South Sudan’s oil through Sudan’s infrastructure since half of the profit goes to Sudan’s government. This leaves China with an open lane.
There are claims by credible journalists in the Horn of Africa, such as Thomas C Mountain, that the US is hedging its bets in South Sudan. Although the State Department was backing President Kiir, according to Mountain, the CIA was backing the opposition headed by warlord Riek Machar once it became clear that China developed ties with President Kiir.
Another power dynamic in Sudan/South Sudan exists between Israel and Iran. Iran backed President Omar al-Bashir and Israel backed the partitioning of Sudan and South Sudan’s President Kiir. Both leaders were involved in mass war crimes against people in the region, and both presidents helped lead to the influx of child soldiers and mercenary gangs in Darfur and South Sudan. In addition to weapons, Israel also provided South Sudan’s military with training, even as the government utilized child soldiers and death squads. Israel and Iran’s main interest in Sudan/South Sudan is geopolitical positioning, not oil. Both Israel and Iran want another foothold in the Horn of Africa. Iran achieved that through Bahsir (until he turned to Saudi Arabia), and Israel is now trying to form relations with Sudan and other countries in the Horn of Africa by developing relations with the oil rich South Sudan.
The war in South Sudan fueled a new crisis in Darfur, which is partially why there are so many children that signed up to get shot at in Yemen. As of 2017, the war in South Sudan caused 400,000 refugees to flee to Darfur. Many of these were children. Both South Sudan and Darfur are riddled with food insecurity from the on-going conflicts. Children that fled from South Sudan to Darfur to escape the violence were greeted by another war-torn area with poverty and food insecurity, where paramilitary groups like the RSF run the show.These conditions allowed Saudi Arabian military commanders to pay a child $10,000 to go get shot at in Yemen.
To prevent the proliferation of child soldiers and trained killers that go into foreign countries to kill other poor people and poor children, then imperialist countries need to stop fueling wars and conflicts in vulnerable areas. Israel and Iran, China and the United States, Saudi Arabia and Qatar,etc, etc, are not done fighting for influence in the Horn of Africa. Like the tragic situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as long as imperialist nations continue to back bad actors to secure resources and control critical strategic positions, then conditions will never improve in poverty ridden countries.
The perpetual violence in Sudan and South Sudan cannot be primarily blamed on the native Sudanese population.Countries like these are largely a mess because other imperialist nations finance brutal dictators, war lords, and death squads in their regions.Any country could fall victim to this (and many do). When imperialists funded these different groups in South Sudan and Darfur,they created hell-holes of poverty, child soldiers, and trained killers.
As previously mentioned, in 2019 China was able to increase its ownership of South Sudan’s oil. The proxy war between China and the United States in South Sudan and Darfur will likely heat up again in 2020 and 2021. There is no reason to be optimistic about the future of South Sudan and Sudan until outside actors start respecting the lives of the civilians and children that are victims of their imperialist policies.
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Good read, I crave these kind of articles and realise how much I have missed from watching state run media news.
If anyone got any book tips on neo-colonialism in africa that expand on this article feel free to share!
If anyone got any book tips on neo-colonialism in africa that expand on this article feel free to share!