Sudan's army and rival paramilitary locked in intense battle over key military base

Fighting over headquarters of the army's armoured corps leave scores dead from both sides

This map shows the residential neighbourhoods that surround the Armoured Corps headquarters in south Khartoum, where the army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces have been locked in a fierce battle since Sunday. The National.
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Sudan's army and the rival paramilitary Rapid Support Forces were locked on Monday in a fierce battle over control of a key military facility in southern Khartoum, with both sides claiming to have gained the upper hand in the fighting.

The battle over the headquarters of the army's Armoured Corps began on Sunday and continued into Monday, with RSF fighters tenaciously attacking the base. Unconfirmed reports on Monday said that the RSF may have breached the army's line of defence.

Sudanese armed forces mark Army Day in Sudan's eastern Gadaref State near the border with Ethiopia on August 14, 2024. AFP

The Armoured Corps in the Al Shagarah district is a storied military facility. Most, if not all, of Sudan's post-independence military coups (around a dozen) involved or were led by officers from the Al Shagarah base.

A common anecdote among residents of the Sudanese capital is that only the coup plotters who control the Al Shagarah base have a chance of successfully seizing power.

The base is nestled among densely populated neighbourhoods and stretches all the way to the banks of the White Nile.

Most residents in those areas have already fled their homes, but men found there by RSF fighters were accused of spying for the army and were summarily executed, according to one witness.

“They shot dead about 15 men when they first arrived in the district on Sunday,” resident Ahmed Khalifa told The National.

“The army is now under siege in the part of the Al Shagarah close to the Nile, but they are still putting up a dogged fight. The Rapid Support Forces have breached the parameters of the base and are in control of a large part of it,” said another witness, Mohammed Moussa, who lives near Al Shagarah.

Videos posted online on Monday appear to show RSF fighters inside what looks like a hangar housing armoured vehicles. A voice in one video is heard shouting “we are inside Al Shagarah!” as an RSF fighter walks past a dead body, presumably of an army soldier.

Videos posted earlier showed RSF fighters close to the outside wall of Al Shagarah. Armoured vehicles could be seen in the distance. Several other clips showed dusty streets strewn with the dead bodies of RSF fighters.

There was no immediate comment from the army or the RSF on the fighting over Al Shagarah, but an army statement from Sunday said troops have repelled repeated attacks by the paramilitary on the base, killing and wounding hundreds of RSF fighters.

The fighting over the Al Shagarah base highlights the predicament of the army in its fight against a more agile force whose men have taken positions deep in Khartoum's residential areas since the early days of the fighting. The army has been using heavy artillery and air strikes, but has had little success in dislodging the RSF fighters, who have taken over thousands of homes across the city.

Sudan's Army chief Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan (right) and commander of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, Gen Mohamed Dagalo. AFP

Fighting between the army and the RSF began in mid-April and has since been mainly centred in the Sudanese capital. A spillover into the restive Darfur region saw genocidal attacks by the RSF and allied Arab militias targeting ethnic African communities. The attacks left thousands dead, reviving memories of the civil war that raged in the area in the 2000s and left 300,000 people dead and displaced 2.5 million.

The war in Sudan is essentially a battle for domination between the army, led by Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan, and his one-time ally and deputy, RSF commander Gen Mohamed Dagalo.

The fighting created a massive humanitarian crisis, with millions trapped in Khartoum, enduring lengthy power and water cuts, scarce medical care and skyrocketing food prices. More than four million people have fled their homes since the war began, with more than one million fleeing to neighbouring nations, mainly Egypt, Chad, South Sudan and the Central African Republic.

On Monday, the army mourned in a statement the death in battle of one of its top officers, Maj-Gen Yasser Fadlallah, commander of the 16th Infantry Division in Nyala, South Darfur. It said he was killed in Nyala on Monday while “carrying out his holy duty to defend the nation.”

The statement gave no more details, but the army and the RSF have been fighting in Nyala in recent days.

Darfur is the birthplace of the RSF's forerunner, the notorious Janjaweed militia that fought on the side of the government in Darfur's civil war and is accused of widespread abuses against civilians there.

Updated: August 22, 2023, 11:40 AM