موقع إخباري يهتم بفضائح و انتهاكات دولة الامارات

Investigation Uncovers UAE Supplying Rapid Support Militias with Offensive Drones

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A BBC investigation uncovered that the UAE has supplied attack drones to the Rapid Support Forces militias in Sudan, exacerbating the country’s ongoing internal conflict, which has lasted over a year.

According to the investigation, foreign-made drones have become a significant factor in the Sudanese war between the army and the Rapid Support Forces, altering the conflict’s dynamics since their introduction late last year.

The BBC News Arabic investigation also documented that the Sudanese army has acquired at least two types of Iranian drones, including suicide drones, which have been deployed during the war.

In return, the RSF received modified commercial drones to be able to deliver missiles. Experts who spoke to the BBC accused the UAE of supplying rapid support for these drones through an air bridge designated for transporting weapons.

In the investigation, BBC News Arabic analyzed dozens of video clips and documented the new weapons and drones that both sides of the conflict had obtained since the beginning of the war, how they arrived in Sudan, and how they changed the course of the war.

War of Heaven and Earth

“In the early phase of the war, the army depended heavily on the Air Force. However, air power alone cannot secure military dominance, particularly against a lightly armed and highly mobile ground force,” Suleiman Baldo, director of the Sudanese Observatory for Transparency and Policy, explained to the BBC.

He noted, “It’s important to remember that the Rapid Support Forces used to serve as the army’s ground troops. Following the outbreak of war, the armed forces found their key units, like the Armored Corps and the air base in Wadi Sedna, surrounded and lacked ground combat forces, which significantly contributed to their defensive stance for several months.”

These conditions influenced the control dynamics on the ground. The army retained control over a few sites in Khartoum and stayed besieged in its bases for several months, but managed to maintain aerial dominance.

Meanwhile, the Rapid Support Forces secured control over most of the capital and the majority of the Darfur region in the west of the country.

The Iranian Drones Tipped the Scales

BBC News Arabic reported on the Sudanese army employing two variants of Iranian drones in its conflict with the Rapid Support Forces.

One model, The Mohajer 6 drones, measures 6.5 meters in length with a wingspan of 10 meters. It boasts a flight range of 200 kilometers, operates at altitudes up to 10,000 feet, and is capable of launching air strikes using precision-guided munitions.

On January 7, 2024, a Mohajer drone was downed by the Rapid Support Forces east of Khartoum, with its wreckage captured in a video.

The wreckage, drone engine and tail matched the specifications of Mohajer 6, according to an analysis by Wim Zwijnenberg, a drone expert and head of the Humanitarian Disarmament Project at PAX for Peace.

Wim also saw another version of the drone at the army’s Wadi Sedna military base, which was on the runway two days after the crash, a satellite image shows.

These drones provide the Sudanese army with an advantage, according to Vim, who informed the BBC: “The Sudanese army has a larger number of drones due to support from Iran. This puts them in a stronger position, and we are already seeing the impact of this in their military operations.”

The Mohajer 6 drones are also more effective than traditional warplanes, Vim noted. “These drones are highly efficient as they can accurately identify targets and require only two weeks of training, unlike other warplanes that demand extensive logistics, maintenance, and training.”

Three weeks after the downing of the Mohajer 6, another army drone, named Zajil 3, a locally produced replica of the Iranian Ababil 3 drone, was shot down by the Rapid Support Forces.

Its wreckage matches the specifications of the drone, measuring 4.5 meters in length and 6.5 meters in wingspan.

Another variant of the Zajil 3 was observed via satellite imagery on March 5, 2024, at the Wadi Saydna military base in Omdurman, located west of the capital.

Its specifications also match the Zajil 3, in terms of length, wingspan and tail shape.

Zajil 3 drones have been in use in Sudan for years. But its first use in the context of the war was last January, about 8 months after it began.

From Fem’s point of view, the recent use of the drone is “an indication of active Iranian support for the Sudanese army, by providing maintenance for those drones.” He says: “If those drones are equipped with guided missiles, this means that they come from Iran because those missiles are not produced in Sudan.”

Suicide Drones

Iranian drones do not operate alone in Sudanese airspace. Weeks before their deployment, the Sudanese army was employing suicide drones, utilizing FPV (First Person View) technology, also known as “first person vision” aircraft.

These drones are controlled through specialized glasses resembling virtual reality headsets and a compact handheld controller.

Weighing approximately one kilogram, they can fly short distances at low altitudes, accurately track targets, and deliver direct hits.

Suicide Drones in The Hands of “Rapid Support Forces”

Recent weeks have brought forth evidence of the RSF deploying suicide drones crafted from commercial components, rather than military drones.

These drones have been employed against army targets in eastern and northern Sudan, as evidenced by social media posts.

According to Wim Zwinenberg, these drones are “long-range,” and their utilization has been observed targeting Sudanese army installations situated behind the front lines, far from the primary conflict zones.

Zwinenberg views the outfitting of drones with commercial components as an attempt to obscure the source of support for the RSF’s weaponry and evade accountability.

Emirati Drones

In addition to suicide drones, early in the conflict, the RSF employed a Quadcopter drone made from commercial components capable of delivering 120 mm mortar rounds.

The army intercepted and recovered many of these drones, along with boxes containing shells intended for them, as documented in pictures and video clips on social media.

Brian Kastner, an arms expert at Amnesty International, alleges UAE involvement in supplying these drones to support the RSF. He states, “The UAE has provided similar equipment to its allies in other conflict zones such as Ethiopia and Yemen.” These drones were equipped with modified 120 mm shells bearing markings from Serbia.”

Kastner further explains, “We discovered crates of these Serbian shells in various locations across Sudan, labeled as imported by the UAE. These shells are newly manufactured and recently arrived in Sudan.”

Anti-aircraft

In addition to drones, the Rapid Support Forces sought to shift the balance in the war and neutralize the army’s air force using air defense systems.

A video released in March 2024 depicts the Rapid Support Forces utilizing a sophisticated man-portable air defense system known as the FN-16.

The deployment of this weapon surprised experts at the Small Arms organization, which specializes in monitoring illicit weapons use.

“This is the first instance we’ve observed of this system being wielded by an armed group,” remarks Matt Schroeder, a researcher specializing in shoulder-launched anti-aircraft weapons at the Small Arms Survey. “Tactically, this weapon is highly significant as it provides ground forces with effective short-range air defense capabilities. Low-altitude air defense systems undermine the operational capabilities of aircraft, particularly during daylight hours.”

The organization also identified four other air defense systems in the possession of the Rapid Support Forces.

For Schroeder, this wide variety of weapons is “unusual, even for the best-armed groups. Therefore, we are very concerned when we see these systems outside the control of governments. The worst scenario is that terrorist groups will use these systems against commercial aircraft, and if a terrorist group succeeds in shooting down a commercial aircraft using this system, I will feel devastated.”

According to the Stockholm Peace Research Institute database, the Sudanese army has purchased only one of these systems, which is the FN-6.

Experts believe that the Rapid Support Forces took control of this system, while the rest came from outside the country.

UN Ban on Arms Imports

In 2005, the UN Security Council imposed an embargo on supplying arms to the Sudanese government and armed factions in Darfur amidst the conflict between non-Arab tribes and the Sudanese government, backed by Arab forces known as the Janjaweed, which later formed the core of the Rapid Support Forces.

“Both sides in Sudan currently disregard the arms export ban,” stated Brian Castner, an arms specialist at Amnesty International. “This has been evident in recent years. The Security Council must uphold its responsibilities and assess Sudan’s situation, including the impending famine, casualties, and displacement, and promptly enforce a comprehensive embargo across Sudan.”

How Did These Weapons Arrive?

On December 7, 2023, a Qeshm Fars Air Boeing 747 passenger plane departed from Bandar Abbas Airport in Iran, heading towards the Red Sea, before disappearing from radar at five in the morning.

Several hours later, satellites captured an image of the same model aircraft at Port Sudan Airport in the eastern part of the country, where Sudanese army leaders and government ministers reside.

A photograph of the plane on the runway was subsequently circulated on the X website (formerly Twitter).

This series of flights occurred five times, continuing until the end of January 2024, the same month during which the use of Iranian drones was documented.

Qeshm Fars Air faces multiple allegations of transporting weapons and fighters across the Middle East, notably to Syria, one of Iran’s long-standing allies in a region marked by over a decade of conflict. The company is under US sanctions in connection with these accusations.

Until a few years ago, Sudan maintained a significant history of military collaboration with Iran, which ceased in 2016 following a rift between Saudi Arabia and Iran, during which Sudan sided with Saudi Arabia.

“Historically, there has been a cooperative relationship between Iran and Sudan, particularly in military industries. Several Sudanese weapons are locally manufactured based on Iranian designs,” explained Suleiman Baldo, director of the Sudan Transparency and Policy Tracker

Amidst the ongoing conflict, the Sudanese government restored relations with Tehran. Each party has its own objectives, according to Baldo: “Iran seeks to establish a foothold in the region and may provide substantial quantities of more advanced drones if it secures geostrategic concessions.”

Alternative Methods of Supporting The Rapid Support Forces

Conversely, the United Nations report identified three routes for supplying weapons to the Rapid Support Forces: from Libya, Chad, and Central Africa. However, a fourth party accused of involvement in these shipments is the UAE, which allegedly operates an air bridge using approximately ten aircraft between Abu Dhabi and Chad.

According to a UN report presented to the Security Council earlier this year, air navigation experts monitored a civilian aircraft air bridge that regularly transported weapons to the Rapid Support Forces. The route originates from Abu Dhabi Airport in the UAE, passes through Nairobi and Kampala airports, and concludes at Umm Djers Airport in Chad, near Sudan’s western border where the Rapid Support Forces hold sway.

The UN report supports these claims.

Local sources and military groups reported frequent shipments of weapons by car from Umm Djeres Airport in Chad, unloaded from planes several times a week, and transported to Darfur and other parts of Sudan.

According to the report, this airlift continued until the end of 2023.

In early 2024, we monitored the Ilyushin 76 EX-76003, observing at least seven flights departing from Abu Dhabi bound for Chad.

“The UAE also has economic interests in Sudan and is seeking a strategic position along the Red Sea,” says Suleiman Baldo.

He adds, “All countries that support war pursue their own interests rather than those of the parties they supply weapons to. It represents a parasitic form of support, aimed at gaining profit without bearing direct costs.”

How Did This Weapon Change The Course Of The War?

Since the Iranian and suicide drones appeared in the skies of Sudan, the situation on the ground has partially changed. The Sudanese army broke the siege imposed around its soldiers in several locations.

As for the Rapid Support, it withdrew from some neighborhoods in the city of Omdurman, west of the capital.

This change occurred thanks to the Iranian drones, according to Suleiman Baldo. He says, “The Air Force was unable to break the siege on its forces and civilians in the old city of Omdurman for almost an entire year.”

Civilians Bear the Burden

Over the past year of conflict, civilians in Sudan, including those in the capital Khartoum, have borne a significant toll.

Abdullah narrowly escaped death when drones he claimed belonged to the Rapid Support Forces attacked his home south of Khartoum last July.

He recounted to the BBC, “During the Rapid Support Forces’ assault on the Central Reserve camp, which was supporting the army, their drones indiscriminately shelled homes, including ours.”

Abdullah identified the Quadcopter drones operated by the Rapid Support and stated that he had seen numerous drones flying over his neighborhood just moments before the attack.

I hurried inside the house and we sought shelter in a room with a concrete roof instead of the wooden-roofed room. My mother, four brothers, and I hid under our beds. Suddenly, a deafening noise startled us; the blast from a drone missile had caused the wooden-roofed room to collapse. If we had been in the other room, we would have all been killed. We narrowly escaped death.

After 3 days, the bombing on the area stopped, and Abdullah’s family left their home to escape the war. “When we went out, I found all the neighborhood residents in the streets on their escape route.”

Most of Khartoum’s population fled because of the war. Among them is Mohamed Salah, a member of the Executive Office of the Emergency Lawyers Group, whom we met in Cairo.

“Khartoum has become a ghost town,” he says. Civilians die in their homes and are buried. Dogs eat corpses in Khartoum.”

He continued, “Civilians are caught in the crossfire. The Rapid Support Forces occupy their residential areas, while the army bombards the Rapid Support Forces from the air, often resulting in civilians bearing the brunt.”

Salah adds, “There is no doubt that civilians have been killed in clashes between the Rapid Support Forces and the army, involving drone attacks.”

As of early 2024, the conflict has spread to new regions beyond the capital. Incidents of civilian casualties in drone attacks were also recorded for the first time in northern, eastern, and central Sudan.

“The danger of the drones is that they reach areas that were originally safe areas,” Salah says.

“The Sudanese are tired of the war. All we want is for the war to stop. “I wish foreign countries would stop supporting both parties with weapons, so that this tragedy would end.”