Sunday, December 30, 2018

Sudanese Mercenaries in Yemen

The war in Yemen the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. An economic blockade by the Saudis and their partners in the United Arab Emirates has pushed as many as 12 million people to the brink of starvation, killing some 85,000 children, according to aid groups.

The Saudis have used their vast oil wealth to outsource the war, mainly by hiring what Sudanese soldiers. A few thousand Emiratis are based around the port of Aden. But the rest of the coalition the Saudis and Emiratis have assembled is united mainly by dependence on their financial aid.  At any time for nearly four years as many as 14,000 Sudanese militiamen have been fighting in Yemen in tandem with the local militia aligned with the Saudis. Almost all the Sudanese fighters appear to come from the battle-scarred and impoverished region of Darfur, where some 300,000 people were killed and 1.2 million displaced during a dozen years of conflict over diminishing arable land and other scarce resources.

Most belong to the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, a tribal militia previously known as the Janjaweed. They were blamed for the systematic rape of women and girls, indiscriminate killing and other war crimes during Darfur’s conflict, and veterans involved in those horrors are now leading their deployment to Yemen. Many of the Sudanese combatants are child-soldiers. Sanese families are so desperate for the money that they let their sons go fight. Many are ages 14 to 17. In interviews,  fighters who have returned from Yemen and another about to depart said that children made up at least 20 percent of their units or even more than 40 percent.

“People are desperate. They are fighting in Yemen because they know that in Sudan they don’t have a future,” said Hafiz Ismail Mohamed, a former banker, economic consultant and critic of the government. “We are exporting soldiers to fight like they are a commodity we are exchanging for foreign currency.”

The Saudi or Emirati command the Sudanese fighters almost exclusively by remote control, directing them to attack or retreat by radio and GPS systems provided to the Sudanese officers in charge of each unit.
“The Saudis...never fought with us.” said Mohamed Suleiman al-Fadil, a 28-year-old member of the Bani Hussein tribe who returned from Yemen at the end of last year. “Without us, the Houthis would take all of Saudi Arabia, including Mecca,”  Fadil said.
Ahmed, 25, a member of the Awlad Zeid tribe who fought near Hudaydah this year explained, “They treat the Sudanese like their firewood.”

The Pakistani military, despite a parliamentary vote blocking its participation, has quietly dispatched 1,000 soldiers to bolster Saudi forces inside the kingdom. Jordan has deployed jets and military advisers. Both governments rely heavily on aid from the Gulf monarchies. (A report by a United Nations panel suggested Eritrea  may have sent about 400 troops as well.)

The Sudanese ground troops unquestionably have made it easier for the Saudis and Emiratis to extend the war. The Sudanese have insulated the Saudis and Emiratis from the casualties that might test the patience of families at home. The Saudis issue them uniforms and weapons. Then Saudi officers provided two to four weeks of training, mainly in assembling and cleaning their guns. Finally, they were divided into units of 500 to 750 fighters. Then they traveled over land to Yemen, to battles in the Midi Desert, the Khalid ibn Walid camp in Taiz, or around Aden and Hudaydah.

The Sudanese mercenaries fight only for money.  They were paid in Saudi riyals, the equivalent of about $480 a month for a 14-year-old novice to about $530 a month for an experienced Janjaweed officer. They received an additional $185 to $285 for any month they saw combat — every month for some. Their pay deposited directly into the Faisal Islamic Bank of Sudan, partly owned by Saudis. At the end of a six-month rotation, each fighter also received a one-time payment of at least 700,000 Sudanese pounds — roughly $10,000 at the current official exchange rate. By comparison, a Sudanese doctor working overtime at multiple jobs might earn the equivalent of $500 a month, said Mr. Mohamed, the economic consultant.

Abdul Raheem, a 32-year-old member of the Rezeigat tribe said that last year his family paid a local militia leader a bribe worth $1,360 so that an older brother could go to Yemen as an officer. The brother, Abdul Rahman, died in combat in February 2018. “Life is like that,” Abdul Raheem said, stone-faced. Abdul Rahman’s wife and three children received the equivalent of $35,000 in Sudanese pounds.

Some Sudanese officers had told the soldiers explicitly, “Don’t fight harder than the money is worth, don’t fight more than you are paid for,” recalled Ahmed, of the Awlad Zeid tribe.

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