Wad Madani under siege: RSF attacks second-largest Sudanese city

Sparking humanitarian crisis

(Photo: Twitter/X)
KHARTOUM — On December 15, Sudanese civilians woke up to the sounds of gunfire and explosions in Wad Madani, a city under army control that hosts hundreds of thousands of displaced people from the capital Khartoum, and nearby towns.اضافة اعلان

The paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) had attacked the city, raising fears that the group would loot homes, kill men, and rape women if they captured it.

“They rape [women] to break the spirits of men,” Omonia Kheir*, a Sudanese woman from Wad Madani, told Al Jazeera. “That’s why people here are not scared of dying or getting shot because then you die as a martyr. But everyone is scared of [women in their families] getting raped.”

After eight months of war, the RSF is on the verge of capturing Wad Madani, the second-largest city in the country’s heartland, in what will mark a major turn in the conflict. Just last week, RSF leader Mohamad Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo agreed to meet top army general Abdel Fattah al-Burhan later this month under the auspices of the East African bloc IGAD.

But even as RSF commanders call for an end to the war with foreign leaders, their fighters are instigating a new humanitarian catastrophe on the ground.

While the RSF has reportedly invaded the city and looted banks and shops, the army has responded with air strikes, even as its foot soldiers retreat.

Most residents support the army, yet few believe they will regain control of the city.

Most aid groups and UN agencies have also evacuated foreign staff and closed operations in Wad Madani, said Will Carter, the country director for the Norwegian Refugee Council in Sudan.

He told Al Jazeera that aid groups did not want to get trapped in a situation where the RSF captured the city, prompting the army to respond with heavy and indiscriminate air strikes.

Carter added that the RSF has “shaken” the already hampered humanitarian response, which operates almost entirely out of the army’s de facto capital in Port Sudan.

“Wad Madani was a gateway to reach three or four other nearby cities with aid,” he said. “But if the RSF sweeps Wad Madani, then it sweeps Sudan’s heartland. Logistically, it will make things quite difficult [for aid agencies] and the question then becomes where the RSF will go next if the army can’t shore up a defense.”

Unlawful arrests and killings?
During the first two days of the offensive, rumors circulated that the RSF had sleeper cells in Wad Madani, prompting the army to unlawfully arrest dozens of young men suspected of cooperating with the group.
Residents say that those detained were targeted based on their accent or ethnicity, which hints that they’re from traditionally neglected regions like Darfur – an RSF stronghold.

In one video circulating over the social media platform X, a young man has both knees on the ground and is surrounded by a crowd of people. He is then interrogated about his job, origins, and if he had been recruited by the RSF. The young man denies any involvement.

Sinnar is south of Wad Madani and has absorbed thousands of displaced people over the last four days. Mohamad al-Gaali, who was living in Khartoum before the war, passed through with his two sisters and their children before reaching Gadarif, a city near the Ethiopian border.

Gaali told Al Jazeera that aid agencies were slow to respond to the humanitarian crisis in Sinnar.

“Aid groups have not started to help there, but local initiatives were trying to provide us with food and shelter,” he said. “Those people were just locals trying to help us, but there were no contributions from [international aid groups].”

Despite local efforts, Kheir believes that no amount of generosity can save the city and its inhabitants from the RSF. After already being uprooted from Khartoum earlier in the war, she said that her family doesn’t have the resources to relocate again.

After nearly eight months of conflict in Sudan, RSF seems to be strengthening its control over the Darfur region and parts of Khartoum. Meanwhile, the Sudanese Armed SAF have been retreating, ceding territory to the RSF, and their leadership is directing operations from Port Sudan. The national government, led by SAF Chief Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, maintains control over central and eastern states, the Nile River north of Khartoum, and Red Sea ports.

Observers compare the situation to Libya, suggesting a division in the country with two governments and armies. On November 20, the RSF reportedly took control of Jebel Aulia, south of Khartoum, including a helicopter base and a lock-and-dam facility on the White Nile.

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