Wagner Group Amplifies Sudan Conflict With Weapons Drop
On April 17, two days after fighting broke out between two rival Sudanese generals, a Russian Ilyushin 76 cargo plane based at Libya’s al-Jufra air base was bound for Sudan.
The plane flew over the northwest corner of the country and air-dropped surface-to-air missiles and other weapons near the Chevrolet Garrison, a base of operations for the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) near the community of Karab Toum.
The flight provided the RSF, controlled by Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as Hemedti, with crucial supplies for its battle against Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the Sudan Armed Forces.
The RSF’s benefactor, according to analysts, was Russia’s Wagner Group.
Using satellite data, the group All Eyes on Wagner, which tracks Wagner’s activities around the globe, monitored the Ilyushin’s flight from al-Jufra, a Wagner base in central Libya, to a Russian based in Syria and back, followed by the flight to Sudan. All Eyes on Wagner worked with CNN to track the flight.
The plane has been identified previously as belonging to Wagner and made flights between Wagner bases in the Central African Republic, Libya, and Syria, according to All Eyes on Wagner.
On April 19, the Sudan Armed Forces and Libyan Armed Forces captured the base from the RSF. Wagner reportedly delivered more weapons to an airport in Merowe north of Khartoum after the RSF captured it.
Before the simmering hostilities between Hemedti and al-Burhan broke into open warfare in Khartoum and elsewhere, Wagner worked with both men. Since April 15, Wagner has thrown its support behind Hemedti and the RSF.
Since arriving in Sudan in 2017, Wagner has trained Hemedti’s militia based in the Darfur region of western Sudan. Perhaps more important, however, Wagner and Hemedti are partners in gold mining operations in the region.
The mining has made Hemedti one of Sudan’s wealthiest men. Wagner’s portion of the gold passes untaxed from the mines and is smuggled out of the country to the Middle East, where it is laundered to help finance Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“Sudan has long been an important platform for the Wagner Group, but also for Russia,” researchers with All Eyes on Wagner note in an article on the group’s website.
Russian President Vladimir Putin announced in 2020 his plans to build a naval base at Port Sudan, a key location on the Red Sea. Those plans stalled after the 2021 military coup that disrupted Sudan’s transition to a civilian government.
Hemedti, who visited Moscow on the day Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, has said he is in favor of building the base. He and al-Burhan discussed the possibility with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during Lavrov’s visit to Sudan in February.
Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin has said the mercenary group will put more of its energy into Africa and reduce its presence in Ukraine, where it has up to 30,000 casualties, including 9,000 deaths, since the invasion began.
In Sudan, Wagner is likely to stay out of direct combat unless it finds its mining operations are threatened, according to Samuel Ramani, a Russian expert at the University of Oxford.
“I would say they are sitting in a more defensive position,” Ramani told the Independent. “Obviously, if there is civil war and Prigozhin’s mining is threatened, we will see a more active military role.”