A contrarian view of the UAE’s role in Sudan
The Emirates' military role is exaggerated while its political importance is under-appreciated
The United Arab Emirates is widely viewed as a spoiler in Sudan’s ongoing civil war, a patron of the renegade Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which have rampaged across cities, pillaging and raping.
Recent reports from a variety of sources have provided credible but non-conclusive evidence about the role of the UAE in supporting the RSF with weapons and materiel.
The Sudanese military have scapegoated the UAE for their military defeats as the hands of the RSF, and the UAE’s leaders are now widely despised by the Sudanese public. A common meme among Sudanese compares the UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan with a devil figure painted by, oddly enough, an Italian revivalist painter, Giovanni Gasparro.
Meanwhile, a leaked report by a UN Panel of Experts concluded that allegations of UAE support for the RSF are “credible,” describing “large-scale and sustained” arms shipments, including light weapons, drones, anti-aircraft missiles, mortars, and ammunition. The report stated, “This new RSF firepower had a massive impact on the balance of forces, both in Darfur and other regions of Sudan.”
As an analyst and open source researcher who has followed the conflict closely since the beginning, I believe this is overstated. Although I agree that the UAE probably provided some weapons to the RSF, I respectfully disagree that this support has made a big difference militarily. The Emirates’ principal importance is political.
The RSF’s successes in the war so far are attributable to tactical superiority over the Sudan Armed Forces, the use of weaponry already acquired before the war, and vast stockpiles of weapons and ammunition captured from the regular army.
During nine months of open source monitoring, I have seen countless videos of RSF troops with captured tanks and armored vehicles—numbering in the hundreds—heavy artillery, mortars, ammunition, anti-aircraft weapons, armored cars, modified pickup trucks (“technicals”), and small arms. The biggest hauls came from the Yarmuk munitions factory, the Armored Corps base, the headquarters of the Central Reserve Police, and the headquarters of five captured infantry divisions.
By comparison, there is little if any visual evidence of weaponry provided by the UAE to the RSF since the start of the war. Armored cars and pickup trucks imported from the UAE date to the pre-war period.