Deadly fighting in Sudan has shown no signs of stopping amid a power struggle that has left hundreds dead and forced the United States to evacuate its embassy in capital Khartoum.
The northeast African country has been attempting to transition to civilian rule following a 2019 military coup that ousted President Omar al-Bashir, who was in power for nearly 30 years. However, disagreement between the Sudan Armed Forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces over the framework of a December 2022 agreement to establish a civilian-led government led to fighting that began on April 8.
The two generals at the center of the conflict—Abdel Fattah al-Burhan of the Sudanese army and Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo of the RSF—are actually former allies who worked together to topple al-Bashir. Now, their rivalry has turned deadly and is on the verge of sparking a humanitarian crisis that could force millions into hunger, according to the World Food Program.
The World Health Organization said Friday the death toll in the conflict had reached 413 people, including at least nine children. Here is what you need to know about the key figures involved and how the United States is involved.
Who Is Abdel Fattah al-Burhan?
Al-Burhan, 62, has been the de facto ruler of Sudan following another coup launched against Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in October 2021.
According to The New York Times, al-Burhan was inspector general of the Sudanese army at the time of al-Bashir’s ouster and rose to power with the subsequent resignation of the country’s defense minister. Al-Burhan became chairman of the Sovereignty Council, a body created to oversee the country’s transition to democratic rule following an initial power-sharing agreement between civilians in the military in August 2019.
At the time, al-Burhan had agreed to step down as head of state by 2021. However, he refused to concede power and detained the civilian-nominated Hamdok. The latter was re-instated weeks later to appease protestors but resigned by January 2022, derailing the country’s hopes of a democratic transition.
Al-Burhan previously served as a regional army commander during a war in the Darfur region, from 2003 until 2008, that killed 300,000 people and displaced millions of others. According to Reuters, he also oversaw Sudanese troops deployed in 2015 to fight for the Saudi-led coalition in the Yemen war. He has close ties with states in the region that are working against Islamists, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
In an interview with CNN, al-Burhan called the RSF offensive “an attempted coup and rebellion against the state.” Estimates suggest al-Burhan and the Sudanese armed forces have three times the number of troops available, according to CNN, but the RSF is better trained and better equipped.
Who Is Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo?
Dagalo, known as “Hemedti,” is essentially Sudan’s deputy head of state. Although his exact age is uncertain, he is believed to be in his mid- to late 40s. He grew up in a Chadian Arab clan and fled to the Darfur region in the 1980s.
According to Reuters, Dagalo formed a pro-government militia with nomadic tribesmen known as the Janjaweed, which has developed into the RSF. Backed by al-Bashir’s government, the Janjaweed ravaged Darfur in the early 2000s, torching villages and killing and raping civilians according to the Associated Press.
Al-Bashir was indicted for war crimes and genocide by the International Criminal Court, but Dagalo has not been implicated. In 2008, he denied any involvement with attacks on civilians. However, Human Rights Watch has accused Dagalo of overseeing “torture, extrajudicial killings, and mass rapes” committed by the RSF during campaigns in the Darfur region in 2014 and 2015.
Dagalo became critical of al-Burhan and other generals in recent weeks over the incorporation of his forces into the military as part of the December 2022 framework agreement for a civilian-led government in Sudan.
How Is the United States Involved?
According to CNN, there are an estimated 16,000 American citizens in Sudan.
On April 17, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken spoke separately with al-Burhan and Dagalo to express concern over the amount of civilian casualties in the conflict and urging a ceasefire to permit the delivery of humanitarian assistance. That same day, CBS News reported a U.S. diplomatic convoy came under fire, with the attackers believed to be allies of the Sudanese army. No one was injured.
However, the U.S. State Department announced Thursday an American citizen in Sudan died amid the conflict. It did not name the individual nor offer details surrounding the death, citing respect for the person’s family. Also on Thursday, the U.S. Defense Department announced it had deployed “additional capabilities” near Sudan to help secure the American Embassy located there and assist if an evacuation was necessary.
On Saturday, ABC News reported U.S. military personnel, including Navy SEAL Team Six, did carry out an evacuation of the embassy by helicopter. Blinken confirmed in a news conference on Monday that all embassy employees and their dependents were successfully removed.
What Is Happening with the Conflict Now?
According to CNN, the RSF had declared a 72-hour truce on Friday via Twitter ahead of the Muslim holiday Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan and its month of fasting. However, the SAF did not offer any confirmation of a ceasefire, and fighting continued north of Khartoum.
Al-Burhan released a video statement—his first since the fighting began—saying, “The ruin and destruction and the sound of gunfire have not allowed a space for the joy that our people across our beloved country deserve, and we are deeply saddened by this.”
According to The Guardian, phone and internet service collapsed on Sunday across much of the country, while fighting and looting has left food, medicine, and fuel scarce in Khartoum.
Tyler Piccotti joined the Biography.com staff in 2023, and before that had worked almost eight years as a newspaper reporter and copy editor. He is a graduate of Syracuse University, an avid sports fan, a frequent moviegoer, and trivia buff.