Sudanese troops had their first clash with Houthi rebels in Yemen. They are backing the Yemeni army, which began a push to reclaim the strategic Al Sharija area in the province of Lahij.
Khartoum sent a detachment of about 850 soldiers to the city of Aden in October to join the Saudi-led coalition, and plans to send a total of about 10,000 troops.
The coalition has struggled to assemble its forces, and have at least in some cases turned to mercenaries to field ground troops. The House of Saud’s requests to Pakistan and Egypt — both traditional allies of the kingdom — have been met with silence.
Sudan is the only country outside the Gulf region directly participating in the ground campaign against Houthi rebels. Khartoum’s army has a lot of experience fighting unconventional foes during which it earned a special reputation for brutality.
Though this their first ground fight, Sudanese forces have been contributing to the air war against the Houthis since at least spring. Khartoum sent several Su-24 Fencer supersonic bombers to King Khalid Air Base in Saudi Arabia.
According to the Satellite Sentinel Project, a group that tracks Sudanese military activity in Darfur, the Sudanese Air Force acquired 12 Su-24 aircraft from Belarus in 2013.
For many observers, the participation of Sudanese troops in Yemen is a disturbing aspect of an already bloody and controversial war. The Sudanese military has a brutal history in its home country, facing widespread accusationsof rape, murder, looting and genocide.
Above — a Belarusian Su-24 Fencer. Dmitri Pichugin/Wikimedia photo. At top — Sudanese troops in Yemen. Capture via YouTube
From 1983 to 2005, the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum fought a long, vicious civil war against black Christian separatists in the south. The lengthy conflict killed two million people, mostly civilians. Sudanese president Omar Bashir often turned to brutal tactics — and unsavory allies — after overthrowing the government in a 1989 military coup.
Sudan sheltered Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden for years after he fell out with Saudi Arabia over the kingdom’s willingness to station American troops for Operation Desert Storm. Fighters loyal to Bin Laden allegedly aided the Sudanese army in trying to quell the southern rebellion during the 1990s.
As South Sudanese separatists forced Bashir to the negotiating table, eventually getting a ceasefire and their independence, neglected Darfuri tribesmen in western Sudan began a rebellion of their own hoping to gain greater autonomy. Khartoum’s response was an all-out military assault.
The Darfuri rebels proved much more resilient than expected, so Khartoum began arming Arab nomad militias called Janjaweed to kill Darfuris, attack their farms and burn their villages. Sudanese troops, warplanes and helicopters also joined the campaign.
Human rights observers estimate the war killed more than 300,000 people and displaced millions.
The arrival of military observers and peacekeeping troops has had mixed results. Sudanese forces have brazenly disrupted peacekeeping efforts and even killed U.N. troops on several occasions.
Less covered than Darfur is Khartoum’s war with rebels in Sudan’s eastern states. Sudanese forces have attacked water supplies, mosques, churches and have on multiple occasions attacked aid workers, including bombing a Doctors Without Borders clinic in 2014.
Though fighting in the east has slowed with a ceasefire in September, the situation remains tense.