UAE negotiates peace in Sudan war, but secretly backs one side | ET REALITY


Under the guise of saving refugees, the United Arab Emirates is carrying out an elaborate covert operation to support one side in Sudan’s escalating war: supplying powerful weapons and drones, treating wounded fighters and airlifting cases. more serious injuries to one of its military hospitals, according to a dozen current and former officials from the United States, Europe and several African countries.

The operation is based at an airfield and a hospital in a remote town across the border from Sudan in Chad, where Emirati cargo planes have been landing almost daily since June, according to satellite images and officials, who They spoke on the basis of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence.

It is the latest example of how the Emirates, a US ally in the Persian Gulf, have been using their vast wealth and sophisticated arsenal to position themselves as a key player and sometimes kingmaker across Africa.

In Sudan, evidence suggests it is supporting the Rapid Support Forces, or RSF, a powerful paramilitary group that has been linked to the Russian mercenary group Wagner and accused of atrocities. The RSF has been fighting the country’s regular army in a civil war that has left 5,000 civilians dead and displaced more than four million people since April.

The Emiratis, however, insist that their operation on the border with Sudan is purely humanitarian.

Since planes began arriving in the Chadian city of Amdjarass, the Emirati state news agency has published images of the gleaming field hospital where it says more than 6,000 patients have been treated since July. Videos show Emirati officials dropping aid packages in front of thatched huts in nearby villages. donating goats and renovation of schools. They have even organized a camel race.

Their motive, the Emiratis say, is to help Sudanese refugees, many of whom are fleeing brutal ethnic violence in the Darfur region. But since Sudan descended into war, just 250 refugees have registered in Amdjarass, according to the United Nations refugee agency.

The refugee emergency is actually a few hundred kilometers to the south, a two-day journey across deserts and dirt roads, where 420,000 newly arrived Sudanese are crammed into sprawling camps amid desperate conditions.

In fact, the United Arab Emirates is using its aid mission to disguise its military support for the leader of the Rapid Support Forces, Lieutenant General Mohamed Hamdan, known as Hemeti, a former Darfur militia commander with a reputation for cruelty. and long-standing ties with the Emirates.

“The Emiratis see Hemeti as their man,” said a former senior US official. “We’ve seen it in other places: they take a man and then completely back him up.”

As an increasingly active player on the African continent, the Emirates have signed trade deals worth tens of billions of dollars to develop mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, carbon credits in Liberia and control ports in Tanzania, Somalia and Sudan.

In eastern Libya, the Emirates armed warlord Khalifa Hifter in contravention of an international arms embargo. In Ethiopia, he supplied armed drones to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed at a crucial moment in the Tigray conflict in 2021, effectively turning the tide of the war.

In Sudan, the Emirates are formally pushing for peace. As a member of the Quad, a diplomatic group that includes the United States, Britain and Saudi Arabia, it is trying to broker a negotiated end to the conflict. Meanwhile, Emirati weapons are fueling the conflict.

In recent weeks, General Hamdan’s fighters have used Kornet anti-tank missiles, supplied by the Emirates, to attack a fortified Armored Corps base in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, US and Sudanese officials said.

The Emirati Foreign Ministry did not respond to a list of questions, but has previously denied providing support to either side in the war in Sudan.

The covert operation in Sudan has rattled US officials, already baffled by the Emirates’ growing ties to Russia and China. Its hardline ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, houses 5,000 American military personnel in his wealthy petrostate. But his efforts in Sudan align Sheikh Mohammed with General Hamdan’s other foreign backer, the Russian mercenaries Wagner.

An unpublished report by UN investigators, presented to the Security Council and obtained by The Times, details how General Hamdan obtained surface-to-air missiles from bases in the neighboring Central African Republic in April and May. Wagner provided the missiles, a U.N. official said. They were used to shoot down several Sudanese fighter jets, two Sudanese officials said.

The Rapid Support Forces did not respond to questions for this article, but recently denied “any association with the Wagner Group.”

When asked about the Emirati activities in Amdjarass, a National Security Council spokesperson said the United States had expressed concern “to all external actors suspected of supplying both sides of the conflict in Sudan, including the United Arab Emirates “.

For Sudanese critics, the Emirates’ meddling represents a scandalous duality: a country that talks about peace while fueling war, and that claims to be helping Sudanese refugees while supporting the fighters who forced them to flee in the first place. place.

“It makes me angry and frustrated,” said Husam Mahjoub, co-founder of Sudan Bukra, an independent Sudanese media company. “We’ve seen this before in countries like Libya and Yemen: the UAE says it wants peace and stability, while doing everything it can to oppose it.”

The operation in Amdjarass began in earnest in mid-June, about two months after the war for control of Sudan began.

That month, President Mahamat Idriss Déby of Chad met with the Emirati leader, Sheikh Mohammed, in one of his palaces in Abu Dhabi. Mr. Déby left with a loan for 1.5 billion dollars (Chad’s annual budget is $1.8 billion) and promises of military vehicles that delivered in August.

Days later, Emirati cargo planes began arriving in Amdjarass, a small oasis city with few inhabitants but an unusually long runway. The Times has identified dozens of flights to Amdjarass since May.

Déby’s father, Idriss, who ruled Chad for three decades, was born in Amdjarass and frequently hosted foreign dignitaries there, and built a nearby airport that boasted the country’s longest runway.

On July 4, after a flight tracker known as Gerjon advertised Faced with the sudden increase in Emirati flights to Amdjarass, the Emirates announced that they had opened a 50-bed hospital at the edge of the runway. More press releases followed, highlighting aid distributions from the Emirates.

“A new milestone in the UAE’s brilliant donation record” read a press release.

But there were also signs of dissent. A video showing members of a local tribe circulated on social media. protesting the new Emirati base. “This is not a civilian hospital,” one declared, adding that the Emiratis were supporting the RSF with logistics and weapons. Then he burned an Emirati flag.

Those accusations were founded. In one part of the hospital, African officials said, Emirati doctors were treating wounded Rapid Support Forces fighters. Some were later flown to Abu Dhabi for treatment at Zayed Military Hospital.

At the same time, satellite images and flight tracking data show, Amdjarass airport was expanding into a bustling military-style airfield that appeared to exceed the needs of its small hospital. Two temporary aircraft shelters and a hangar were built. The hospital complex was expanded. Fuel storage bladders were installed.

The ground was leveled in a large area south of the runway, indicating a possible new area where planes could be parked.

Many of the cargo planes that landed in Amdjarass had previously transported weapons for the Emirates to other conflict zones. An Ilyushin aircraft registered to fly sky The airlines, which UN investigators have accused of violating the arms embargo on Libya, were suspected of delivering drones to Ethiopia in 2021.

A Times analysis found that the airfield’s construction pattern resembles a drone base built by the Emirates in Al Khadim, eastern Libya. in 2016. (More recently, Wagner’s mercenaries were stationed there.)

From Amdjarass, the weapons are driven 150 miles east to Zurug, the main RSF base in General Hamdan’s fiefdom in North Darfur, according to Sudanese, Chadian and UN officials. An elder from a Sudanese border tribe said RSF had approached his group this summer to ensure the safe passage of road convoys from the border to Zurug.

The airfield continues to expand. The Times obtained nighttime satellite images from late August that detected lights on the apron, taxiway and runway, suggesting preparations for future operations shielded from daytime satellite photography.

“The Emirates have done more than anyone to sustain the RSF and prolong the conflict in Sudan,” said Cameron Hudson, a former CIA Africa analyst now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

But, he added, “they don’t do it with a lot of fingerprints, and that’s intentional.”

The Emirates’ relationship with General Hamdan began in the Middle East. In 2018, the Emirates generously paid the Sudanese militia leader to send thousands of fighters to southern Yemen, as part of the Emirates’ tough military campaign against Houthi rebels in the north.

That campaign enriched General Hamdan and helped make the RSF even more powerful inside Sudan. While building a business empire on gold mining, he moved his profits to Dubai, where his younger brother, Algoney Hamdan Dagalo, established companies to manage the family interests.

Why the Emirates have decided to redouble their efforts against General Hamdan now, despite mounting evidence of wartime atrocities, has baffled many Western officials and analysts.

Like many Gulf countries, the Emirates see Sudan as a potential source of food and covet a position on its Red Sea coast. In December, the Emirates signed a $6 billion deal develop a port 125 miles north of Port Sudan.

Rivalries in the Middle East are also a factor. Tensions between the Emirates and Egypt, which backs Sudan’s military, and Saudi Arabia, which is leading diplomatic efforts to end Sudan’s war, are rising steadily, diplomats say.

And more than anything, analysts say, Sheikh Mohammed may simply be banking on a loyal ally.

Sudanese refugees continue to arrive in Chad at a rate of 2,000 a day, aid workers say. Most arrive in Adré, an impoverished border town that is too far away to receive help from the Emirati base almost 320 kilometers to the north.

The report was contributed by Vivian Nereim from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Eman El Sherbiny from Cairo; Haley Willis from New York; Malachi Browne from Limerick, Ireland; and Marcos Mazzetti from Washington.

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