Khartoum (OPINION) – Since launching its military campaign against Yemen in March of 2015, the Saudi-led coalition has exploited Sudanese troops as cannon fodder on the front lines. The time is long past for Sudan to withdraw its troops from Yemen and help accelerate an end to the devastating war.

• Saudi Arabia and the UAE exploit Sudan’s sanctioned economy by recruiting thousands of paid Sudanese mercenaries — mostly children.

• Over 8 thousand Sudanese have been killed or injured by Yemeni forces on the front lines.

• The US maintains heavy sanctions against Sudan as a “state sponsor of terrorism” while arming Sudanese troops to fight in Yemen.

While the Saudi-led coalition’s deadly air campaign garners plenty of attention — and rightfully so — no one mentions much about the troops fighting against indigenous Yemenis on the ground. Much like Syria and Libya, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi rely on paid mercenaries rather than their own troops to carry out ground campaigns on Yemeni soil.

No one has sent more troops to die in Yemen than Sudan — and for what?

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In 2015, Sudan’s central bank in Khartoum received two deposits totaling $2.22 billion from state officials in Saudi Arabia and Qatar. (It’s worth mentioning that Qatar dropped out of the Saudi-led coalition against Yemen after Doha’s fallout with Riyadh in 2017.)

Furthermore, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi control the vast majority of shares in the Bank of Khartoum with Dubai Islamic Bank, Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank, and Sharjah Islamic Bank in Abu Dhabi functioning as the three main shareholders. Sudan’s then-president Omar al-Bashir also reportedly personally accepted $90 million from Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman entirely outside of the state budget records.

Fast forward to 2019. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir left office after popular protests and a military coup. Whether Riyadh and Abu Dhabi played a direct role in orchestrating Bashir’s outsing is another story.  It didn’t take long, however, for the Saudis and UAE to again pledge their support in the form of $3 billion in aid: $500 million in cash deposits to Khartoum’s central bank and the remainder in petroleum products, foodstuffs, and medical supplies.

Sudanese people: Riyadh and Abu Dhabi’s cannon fodder of choice

Subject to crippling US economic sanctions since 1997, Sudan isn’t exactly in any position to refuse cash. Of course, that cash doesn’t come without certain expectations.

In an announcement this week, Sana’a-based Yemeni military spokesman Yahya Saree called on the Sudanese people to examine the high casualty counts and demand their government withdraw troops from Yemeni soil for their own good.

Saree said that Sudanese troops have suffered at least 8 thousand casualties over the past five years of war in his country with 4,253 killed in total and 1,354 this year alone. The majority of casualties stem from Yemen’s southern and west coast battles such as Hodeidah and Taiz where Sudanese troops suffered 2,049 deaths on various fronts.

According to Brigadier-General Saree, Sudan has several thousand troops currently stationed inside his country:

  • 1 thousand in Aden and Lahj, including Yemen’s main airport in Aden
  • 2 thousand along the Yemen-Saudi border near Mojza
  • 5 thousand along the Yemen-Saudi border near Samtah
  • Six brigades along Yemen’s west coast totaling 6 thousand

Saree reiterated that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are exploiting the Sudanese people for their own gain and feeding them propaganda to continue sending their men to die.

“The Sudanese regime has thrown its soldiers into the ground war, unlike some countries that involve their forces merely either in the air or at sea,” Saree said in an announcement.

He continued:

“Sudanese people are subjected to a media disinformation campaign. Sudan’s continued participation in the aggression on Yemen serves only the agendas of the government and the coalition of aggression.”

The aftermath of a Saudi airstrike on a funeral in 2016 that killed or injured over 600 people.

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Exporting atrocities and war crimes from Darfur into Yemen

The invading Sudanese troops have carried out several crimes and massacres against Yemeni people, as documented by the United Nations panel of independent experts.

Rape — and systematic weaponized rape — are both commonplace in areas under UAE control with Sudanese forces. In April of 2018, a Sudanese soldier raped a Yemeni woman. When she attempted to speak out and report the incident, Emirati troops threatened her into signing a confession:

“When I was collecting straw at the valley, a Sudanese soldier approached me and fired several shots from his gun into the air. After that, he started to hit me in my face several times. I was then dragged into the camp where he raped me.”

The soldier in question previously fought in Sudan’s Janjaweed militia which has a shameful history of targeting women and young girls with systematic rape as a weapon of war in Sudan. Over 36 hours in 2014, Janjaweed troops raided a Darfur village and mass raped 221 women.

Janjaweed fighters have killed some 300 thousand civilians in Sudan’s Darfur region and now these same fighters have invaded Yemen as part of the Saudi-led coalition.

Sudan also has a habit of sending children as young as 14 to fight in Yemen. Estimates suggest that roughly 40% of the 14 thousand Sudanese troops stationed in Yemen are children. An anonymous member of Yemen’s Awlad Zeid tribe told The Independent last year:

“They treat the Sudanese like their firewood.”

By exploiting Sudan’s sky-high inflation rate and heavily sanctioned economy, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi can offer a promising salary of about $487 per month for a 14-year old newbie to $539 for an experienced Janjaweed officer. If a soldier sees combat, he can earn an additional $188 to $289 each month.

Washington breaks its own arbitrary sanctions to arm Sudanese troops

If anyone needed any further proof that the United States wields sanctions as a weapon of control, look no further than Sudan.

Washington has inflicted crippling sanctions on Sudan’s fragile economy since 1997, labeling the African country a “state sponsor of terrorism.” In 2017, Washington lifted minimal sanctions, almost merely symbolically, and doubled down on its state sponsor of terrorism label in August of 2019 when Khartoum sought additional sanctions relief.

Lifting sanctions on Sudan would allow the country to build up its own economic sustainability and encourage foreign investment. Ultimately, Sudanese civilians would be far less likely to voluntarily enlist to fight on Riyadh’s behalf out of mere financial desperation.

Ironically, no one ever mentions that the United States arms the Saudi-led coalition to the teeth in Yemen. In other words, Washington is violating its own sanctions and arbitrary terrorism labels by supporting Sudanese and Janjaweed troops with military equipment to fight against indigenous Yemeni forces.

The United States has provided the bulk of military support to the Saudi-led coalition fighting against Yemen through precision-guided smart missiles, training, fighter jets, fuel, ground support, and naval support to enforce the illegal blockade.

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It’s time for Sudan to withdraw its troops from Yemen

Furthermore, the United States must lift its sanctions on Sudan so it may enter the global market and build its economy to provide job opportunities to its citizens.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are simply exploiting the poverty and sanctions in Sudan sending husbands, fathers, and sons to kill Yemenis and die against Yemeni forces on the battlefield.

The Saudi-led coalition has completely failed its objectives in Yemen. The Ansarullah movement, which Riyadh and Abu Dhabi entered the war to violently repress, has only grown stronger in their military capabilities and gained more popular support on the ground. Ansarullah and their allies are also the most effective force against terrorist groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates do not have effective domestic armies of their own. Instead, they rely on Sudan and Black Water paid mercenaries to fight Yemeni forces on the ground. Those 14 thousand Sudanese troops are vital to their violent occupation of Yemen and bringing them home could drastically shift the course of the war.

Riyadh has already faced a massive blow to its economy through the September Aramco attack. If Sudan withdrew its troops, this could push the Saudi coalition over the edge into political negotiations and create a major turning point.

It’s time for Sudan to bring its troops home from Yemen and accelerate an end to the war.

Featured photo: Almasirah