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Rapid Support Forces (RSF)

Insurgency Overview

The Rapid Support Forces (RSF) are a Sudanese government-funded and operated paramilitary force. The RSF grew out of the Janjaweed militias, which fought for the Sudanese government during the War in Darfur, and they engaged in anti-democratic operations during the 2019 Sudanese political crisis (Al Jazeera 2019). The actions carried out by the RSF during the war in Darfur have been qualified as crimes against humanity for the rape and displacement of ethnic & religious minorities (Loeb 2015). Nominally administered and commanded by the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) of the Sudanese government, they are commanded by the Sudanese Armed Forces during military operations. During the Khartoum Massacre, The RSF used heavy weaponry to disperse a protest and sit-in, killing over 100 people and wounding many more. The massacre in Khartoum occurred due to protests which opposed the creation of the Transitional Military Council (TMC) headed by the RSF commander Lieutenant General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo “Hemetti” (formally the deputy leader of the TMC but known as the de facto real leader) (Tharoor 2019).

History & Foundations

While not created for a specific political purpose, the RSF are the effective officialization of the pre-existing Janjaweed militias. This has made them an ‘official uniformed force’ (Dabanga Sudan 2014) and they have resumed activities constituting crimes against humanity (Hashim 2022). The RSF was officially formed in August of 2013 under the previously mentioned NISS, following a restructuring of the Janjaweed militias in Sudan. This reformation of the Janjaweed followed attacks carried out by the Sudanese Revolutionary Front against the government of then-president Omar al-Bashir (SudanTribune 2014).

Objectives & Ideology

Officially, the group has stated that its role is counterinsurgency and anti-terrorist operations (Rapid Support Forces 2022). Nonetheless, the validity of these self-proclaimed objectives has been highly disputed, notably as the group has been accused of human rights violations and of enabling coup d’états by the country’s ruling political elite (TRT World 2021). The forces which fall under the Rapid Support Forces umbrella do not have an overarching ideological basis, though they have been used by their leader, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, as a tool to remain in power by cracking down on pro-democracy protests and other ‘anti-government’ activities (Henry 2019).

Military & Political Abilities

The group has effective and embedded military and political capabilities. Due to the formation of the Janjaweed militias and the then officialization of the Janjaweed into the Rapid Support Forces, their ability has only developed. The group has an extensive armoury of equipment, including both light and heavy weaponry. Images of the group regularly feature small arms, such as AK-47s or PKM machine guns, as well as truck-mounted DShK heavy machine guns. The group has also been photographed receiving training from “white-skinned men in camouflaged green uniforms” where witnesses said they “speak Russian” (صوت الهامش 2019). The group is therefore rumoured to be receiving training from the PMC Wagner Group who has been active in large portions of conflict-stricken Africa (Gadret 2022). This possible training by former Russian and ex-soviet state military advisors could be adding expertise that could henceforth increase the lethality and effectiveness of the group as a fighting force.

Approach to Resistance

The group is known to be extremely violent (in comparison/relation to other regional groups) which have led to accusations of ethnic cleansing and rape/terror (Mwatana for Human Rights 2022). Additionally, the group has taken on a more organised and military-style appearance since its formalisation under the Rapid Support Forces. This has led to the group being used as a counter-insurgent force in Yemen as a part of the Saudi coalition fighting against the Ansar Allah (Houthi) movement. The RSF’s experience in Sudan as a counterinsurgency force has been the main driving force behind its use in Yemen and the capabilities which the force holds to conduct these operations have been used extensively. The Saudi-led military force has been seeking to aggressively hold and clear large areas of territory in northern Yemen and – due to a lack of willingness to use its military – it has been quick to use the RSF’s counterinsurgency capabilities (Heras 2017).

International Relations & Alliances

The officialization of the RSF has allowed the group to gain access to a wider set of contacts through their commander and the wider Sudanese government. This has come in varying forms, including the European Union funding the Sudanese government to control migration coming through Sudan and across the Sahara towards the Libyan coast (International Organisation for Migration 2016). Although the EU has denied that the RSF has received any of the $155 million funding (European Commission 2017), there have been accusations that due to the RSF's role in securing the border, they will in part receive funding indirectly (Dabanga Sudan 2016).

Sudan had spent several years trying to strengthen ties with Iran and its government with a military cooperation agreement being signed in 2008 (SudanTribune 2008). Additionally, Iranian naval and logistical bases in Port Sudan were constructed in 2013 (Bodansky 2013). However, with the Iranian refusal to help during the economic troubles which hit Sudan following South Sudanese independence in 2011, the Sudanese government began seeking support elsewhere (Al-Monitor 2015). This included seeking support from the Qatari government (SudanTribune 2013) and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (Gulf News 2015) which deposited large amounts of currency into the Sudanese central bank. This ‘buying’ of support from the Sudanese government has led directly to the RSF being utilised in the Yemen war and is evident in the forces’ extensive international contacts and their relations through the central Sudanese government.

Works Cited (MLA-style)

Al Jazeera. 2019. “Who Are Sudan’s RSF and Their Commander Hemeti?” 2019.

Al-Monitor. 2015. “Sudan Gets $2.2B for Joining Saudi Arabia, Qatar in Yemen War.” November 23, 2015.

Bodansky, Yossef. 2013. “Iran and Sudan Begin to Execute Moves to Dominate Central & Western Africa.” July 2, 2013.

Dabanga Sudan. 2014. “‘Sudan Regime Revived Janjaweed to Attack Civilians’: Activists.” Radio Dabanga. June 27, 2014.

———. 2016. “EU: ‘No Support to Sudan’s RSF.’” Radio Dabanga. September 6, 2016.

European Commission. 2017. “Parliamentary Question | Answer to Question No E-007564/16 | E-007564/2016(ASW) | European Parliament.” February 10, 2017.

Gadret, Barthélemy. 2022. “What Is Wagner Doing in Africa?” The Best of Africa. January 27, 2022.

Gulf News. 2015. “Saudi Arabia Deposits $1b in Sudan Central Bank.” August 13, 2015.

Hashim, Mohanad. 2022. “Darfur: Why Are Sudan’s Janjaweed on the Attack Again?” BBC News, April 26, 2022, sec. Africa.

Henry, Jehanne. 2019. “‘They Were Shouting “Kill Them.”’” Human Rights Watch. November 17, 2019.

Heras, Nicholas A. 2017. “Sudan’s Controversial Rapid Support Forces Bolster Saudi Efforts in Yemen.” Jamestown. October 27, 2017.

International Organisation for Migration. 2016. “EU-Horn of Africa Migration Route Initiative (Khartoum Process).” International Organization for Migration. February 26, 2016.

Loeb, Jonathan. 2015. “‘Men with No Mercy.’” Human Rights Watch. September 9, 2015.

Mwatana for Human Rights. 2022. “Yemen: Sudanese Forces of the Coalition Commit Sexual Violence in Hajjah - Yemen | ReliefWeb.” October 23, 2022.

Rapid Support Forces. 2022. “Rapid Support Forces.” RSF. 2022.

SudanTribune. 2008. “Darfur Mission, a Test for Europe’s Capacity to Act in Africa Conflicts.” Sudan Tribune. Sudan Tribune. March 4, 2008.

———. 2013. “Qatar to Deposit $1 Billion in Sudan’s Central Bank: Report.” Sudan Tribune. Sudan Tribune. October 2, 2013.

———. 2014. “What about the Leaked Sudanese Regime Documents?” Sudan Tribune. Sudan Tribune. September 30, 2014.

صوت الهامش. 2019. “قوات روسية تدرب مليشيا الدعم السريع وترافقها للخرطوم - Russian Forces Train the Rapid Support Militia and Accompany It to Khartoum.” صوت الهامش. صوت الهامش. January 2, 2019.


Tharoor, Ishaan. 2019. “Analysis | the Warlord Wrecking Sudan’s Revolution.” Washington Post, June 18, 2019.

TRT World. 2021. “Who Are Rapid Support Forces, the Coup Enablers in Sudan?” Who Are Rapid Support Forces, the Coup Enablers in Sudan? October 26, 2021.

Additional Resources



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