“The White House knows very well that Betting on the civilian component is not guaranteed.”
Despite the escalation of tension and criticism between the administration of US President Joe Biden and the head of the Sudanese Transitional Sovereign Council, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, military relations between the two sides continue at a periodic pace in a remarkable manner.
Questions revolve about the motives of these military meetings that contradict the existing crisis, with the White House continuing to pressure al-Burhan, following the 25 November 2021 coup procedures, according to which he overthrew the partnership with the civilian component in managing the transitional phase.
The Sudanese thinker, Abdullah Ali Ibrahim, once said that “the army is the elephant inside the Sudanese politics room,” and it is a phrase intended to be the main controller of the wheels of the state from behind the curtain.
The Sudanese armed forces have a wide past in political and social forums, like most of the armies of the Middle East, which are known for coups and interventions to overturn the scales in the palaces of government, and they also enjoy stable relations with Russia.
On April 15, 2022, for the first time, the Sudanese Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Muhammad Othman al-Hussein, met with the US military attaché Joseph Volcker, according to the Sudanese News Agency.
A statement issued by the army stated that the meeting, which took place inside the headquarters of the Sudanese army in the capital, Khartoum, discussed strengthening cooperation relations between the two countries, and ways to develop them to serve the interests of the two peoples and their army in a manner that guarantees security and stability.
The meeting came three days after the tripartite mechanism of the United Nations, the African Union, and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development in East Africa (IGAD) proposed four main axes to resolve the political crisis in Sudan.
The four axes are: Constitutional arrangements, determining criteria for selecting the prime minister and ministers, formulating an action program that addresses the urgent needs of the citizens, and drafting a tight and timely plan to organize free and fair elections.
The advanced military meetings between Washington and Khartoum began on December 20, 2020, when the US Embassy in Sudan announced that it would continue to work with the Sudanese army to strengthen bilateral military relations.
On its official Facebook page, it published pictures of Sudanese and American soldiers gathering at the Flamingo naval base in Port Sudan on the Red Sea coast, which is the region in which Russia seeks to establish a logistics center for its ships on the Red Sea.
“The removal of Sudan from the list of state sponsors of terrorism represents a fundamental and historic change. We look forward to opportunities that will enhance military cooperation in the future,” the embassy said.
Since 1993, the United States has included Sudan on its list of state sponsors of terrorism, for hosting it at the time, al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
On December 14, 2020, Washington announced that the decision to cancel the designation of Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism became effective.
Sudan has a coast overlooking the Red Sea that extends over a distance of more than 700 km, and its largest port is Port Sudan, which is the main port of the country, and represents a strategic seaport for several landlocked countries such as Chad, Ethiopia, and South Sudan.
Push and Pull
With the military talks between the two sides, it should not be forgotten that Washington entered strongly on the line of the escalating crisis in Khartoum when it clearly declared its support for the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) in its dispute with al-Burhan.
On April 6, 2022, the US State Department considered that the political process facilitated by the United Nations mission offers the best opportunity to restore the democratic path in the country.
The White House clearly defined its position in its complete bias against the Sudanese administration with its current formation under the umbrella of al-Burhan and worked to weaken its position in its confrontation with the United Nations mission.
The State Department announced that the ongoing political process led by the Sudanese, facilitated by the UNITAMS, the African Union, and IGAD, and with the support of the Friends of Sudan, presents the best opportunity to restore the path of democracy.
Which prompted al-Burhan to declare clearly, saying: “The army does not fear anyone, and will not hand over the country except to an honest elected authority.”
In the same context, al-Burhan warned the head of the UNITAMS, Volker Perthes, against expulsion from the country against the backdrop of blatant interference in the Sudanese affair.
His use of the army came in an explicit message to the United States, which has a hostile history with Sudan, after military strikes were directed against him in the past, and economic sanctions were imposed against the regime of ousted President Omar al-Bashir, the rest of the Sudanese people were affected.
The Sudanese Army
The US administration knows that the army in Sudan is a major component of the state, and the formation of the Sudanese armed forces began in 1925, and units of them participated in the Second World War (1945-1939), and its combative doctrine is based on defending the homeland, preserving its sovereignty, and protecting the ruling regime.
The age of conscription for military service is 18 years, and the army includes 189,000 soldiers, including 105,000 in the reserve forces.
It has 191 warplanes, 410 tanks, 403 armored fighting vehicles, and 20 missile platforms, which makes it 69th among the most powerful armies in the world, and 8th in Africa.
The Sudanese army had previously fought battles for more than 50 years in the civil war in southern Sudan from August 1955 until 2005, which ended with the signing of the Naivasha peace agreement.
On November 17, 1958, Sudan witnessed the first military coup led by Lieutenant-General Ibrahim Abboud, and this is against the background of the government of Abdullah Khalil summoning the army leaders to take over the rule of the country, inaugurating a military rule that has become in control of the political process and the gateway to those who want power.
The coup of the National Salvation Revolution on June 30, 1989, led by Omar al-Bashir and Dr. Hassan al-Turabi, is the longest-lived coup in Sudanese history, as its rule lasted three decades.
Before the army overthrew him on April 11, 2019, after several months of protests and uprisings in the streets of Sudan, and with his fall, the Military Council was formed, led by Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, and his deputy, Lieutenant-General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (Hemedti).
On June 9, 2021, al-Burhan denied that Khartoum had canceled the idea of establishing a Russian naval base in the Red Sea, despite great US pressure.
Al-Burhan said, at the time, that there was an understanding of how to formulate this agreement (on the Russian base), and how to adopt it by the responsible authorities, such as the Legislative Council and other authorities participating in the transitional period.
Khartoum turned to Russia during the period that was placed on the list of countries sponsoring terrorism (1993-2019), to consolidate relations with it in areas including oil and military cooperation.
The story of the military base goes back to the visit of ousted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to Moscow in November 2017, and his signing of military cooperation agreements with Russia related to training, the establishment of a Russian military base on the Red Sea coast, and his request to provide his country with defensive weapons.
On November 16, 2020, Putin approved the establishment of a Russian naval base in Sudan capable of accommodating nuclear-powered ships.
Reasons for Convergence
In his reading of the scene, Sudanese journalist Mohamed Nasr told Al-Estiklal that “the differences between the US administration and the Sudanese Sovereign Council and the pressure imposed by US President Joe Biden on the proof are separate from the military relations between the two sides.”
“The Sudanese army is the basis of the political process and national security in the country, and its role and weight cannot be neglected in any way. The White House knows this, and in the sharpest moments of the dispute and the US sanctions against Khartoum during the time of al-Bashir, there was communication on the military level between the two sides,” he added.
“Also, the trips of generals and US military grants to senior leaders in the Sudanese army constitute a consistent protocol. It is highly unlikely that Washington would completely lose the army for any reason,” Mr. Nasr said.
“We are talking here about political realism, which determines the nature of dealings between the parties. The White House knows very well that betting on the civilian component represented by Abdullah Hamdok and the Forces of Freedom and Change is not guaranteed,” he also stated.
The Sudanese journalist attributed this to them not having popularity and weight in the street, nor do they having a military force that would enable them to rule the state and be unique in the matter, unlike the army, which has the popular weight, and with it the balance of power.
“Therefore, relying on them absolutely will not help, but rather complicate the transitional process, and never guarantee stability, in light of the existing polarization and the attempt to impose a specific agenda on the state and citizens,” Mr. Nasr said.
“This matter is the main reason for the November 25, 2021 procedures, and their consequences, because the army knew very well that the alternative would inevitably lead to a civil conflict, and the Western administrations, despite their constant pressure on Sudan’s military, realize that there is no real and strong alternative other than them,” he stressed.