FULL REPORT: Special Report: Sudan – Fighting between rival security forces likely to continue nationwide in coming weeks

North AfricaSudan18 April 2023

FULL REPORT: Special Report: Sudan – Fighting between rival security forces likely to continue nationwide in coming weeks

Written by:
Andrew Smith
Image Credit: Naruedom Yaempongsa / Shutterstock

Torchlight Torchlight Predictions

  • Large security forces’ deployments and presence of key institutions mean Khartoum will remain central point of fighting in weeks ahead
  • Fighting will cause severe operational disruption, with power and water supplies cut, transport and logistics operations impeded, and personnel vulnerable to incidental security threats
  • Conflict is likely to proliferate to other regions and incorporate other armed groups in months ahead, further limiting prospects of installation of civilian government
    Locations of SAF-RSF clashes reported across Sudan


Fighting between the Sudanese army (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) enters its third consecutive day. The conflict began on 15 April, though it remains unclear which side initiated it. The RSF accused the SAF of attacking one of its bases in southern Khartoum, while the SAF said the RSF attacked several of its sites in Khartoum and elsewhere. So far, at least 97 people have died in the conflict, while state TV and radio are suspended. The onset of fighting has derailed the December “framework” agreement and transition to a civilian government. A new administration was supposed to be installed on 11 April – the failure of which partly led to the conflict.

Local and international media report the fighting is most intense in Khartoum where the SAF has increased airstrikes against RSF sites, and there are heavy artillery and gun fights between the rival forces. Fighting is most severe near key locations in the city, including the presidential palace, SAF headquarters and other government buildings, though clashes are taking place in residential areas as well. Clashes are also taking place in other towns and cities, including Nyala, El Fasher, El Obied, and Merowe, among others.


Both sides are claiming control of key sites around the country, including airports, military bases, town centres and government buildings. However, social media footage and local witnesses suggest the SAF is gradually gaining an advantage in many areas, including Khartoum, partly due to its aerial superiority. Nevertheless, fighting is likely to continue nationwide in the coming weeks. The clashes are a result of longstanding SAF-RSF tensions, which culminated last week when a timeframe could not be agreed to integrate the RSF into the SAF. Since the fighting began, both sides have vowed to continue until the other is defeated or dissolved. Although there are no statistics on the casualties inflicted since Saturday, both groups deployed over 100,000 personnel in multiple locations nationwide before the conflict started. 

Khartoum and surrounding areas, including Omdurman, will remain flashpoints due to large SAF-RSF deployments and the presence of key state institutions. It is probable that recurrent temporary ceasefires will be called in the city to allow humanitarian access or the evacuation of residents and personnel, particularly as warring parties are unlikely to withdraw. 

Locations of SAF-RSF clashes reported in Khartoum

Even in the event one side gains a military advantage, a protracted insurgency is probable in the months ahead. This is especially likely from the RSF, whose power base is in the southwestern Darfur regions from where it would base its insurgency, though its forces are active nationwide. The RSF also has access to substantial funds and better military equipment – aside from aircraft – to maintain its offensive. 

Meanwhile, there is a high chance the conflict will proliferate to other regions in the months ahead and incorporate more armed groups, including those in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile state. Several of these groups – including the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North – have refused to join the existing political process and will likely see the current instability as an opportunity to better position themselves ahead of future talks. 

Strategic Outlook

The ongoing fighting means almost all businesses’ and organisations’ operations nationwide will be severely affected for at least the next few weeks. Power and water supplies remain cut in Khartoum, and these will likely be extended to other conflict-affected areas. Fighting has damaged aircraft and infrastructure at the Khartoum International Airport and Sudanese airspace will remain closed for at least several weeks. Shipping and logistics operations at Port Sudan – through which 90% of Sudan’s trade, and oil exports flow – will also be disrupted amid nearby clashes. Fighting will also cause severe incidental threats to personnel, assets and facilities, particularly as clashes, airstrikes and artillery fire are currently concentrated in high-density urban areas. This is highlighted by the killing of three UN staff during SAF-RSF clashes in Kabkabiya, North Darfur on 15 April. 

Meanwhile, a protracted conflict involving multiple actors means a new political arrangement and instalment of any new civilian-led government is highly unlikely in the short to medium term. Similarly, a SAF victory would present significant barriers towards a new civilian administration. The SAF and state institutions remain heavily influenced by Islamist loyalists of former President Omar al-Bashir’s regime. Since the 2021 coup, SAF chief and Sudan’s interim leader General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan has increasingly relied on Islamist networks to consolidate his position. He will likely be forced to make more concessions to them in any post-conflict arrangement in return for support. This will likely result in this group using its renewed power to block any transition towards secular democracy.

On the other hand, an RSF win would increase the prospects of a transitional government in the years ahead. RSF head General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo “Hemedti” has reiterated his commitment to a transitional government in recent months, and would likely foster a more inclusive political process. Nonetheless, this would face significant resistance from Islamist factions, as well as remaining elements of the SAF, while significant security sector reforms would be required to prevent further conflict or coups. Hemedti would also look to take a senior position in any new government.

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