Yesterday the head of the Sudanese army, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan addressed the United Nations General Assembly in New York, asking for more help from the international community for Sudan and condemning the paramilitary groups that he said “have killed, looted, raped, robbed, seized civilian homes and property, and destroyed infrastructure and government buildings.” Since April, the country has been in the grip of a civil conflict between the government and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a rebel group backed by the Russian mercenary group, the Wagner Group. Early this week, ahead of the General Assembly, a group of fifty human rights and humanitarian organizations published an open letter urgently calling on the UN Security Council to address the crisis in Sudan.
A new report from Yale University’s Conflict Observatory has used satellite imagery and open source research tools to map the catastrophic damage caused by fighting in the capital Khartoum. Open source images are particularly difficult to obtain in Sudan, partly due to power and telecom outages, making it difficult to assess the full extent of damage caused by the conflict.
The Conflict Observatory, a US government-backed initiative of Yale University’s Humanitarian Research Lab, the Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative, PlanetScape AI and mapping software Esri, has identified at least five explosions that have occurred in the city, including attacks that caused damage hit a market and a hospital, which investigators estimate killed hundreds of people. At least one of the explosions – the attack on the market – was most likely caused by a drone strike.
Government forces have acquired Turkish Bayraktar drones, while the RSF has used commercial unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) likely from Russia, according to Nathaniel Raymond, a fellow at the Humanitarian Research Lab and lecturer at Yale’s Jackson School of Global Affairs.
“Welcome to the new world order,” says Raymond. “All conflicts are now shaped by the use of UAVs by state and non-state actors.”
Most of the airstrike damage found by the Conflict Observatory appears to have been attributed to the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), although both sides have released statements accusing each other of attacks on several locations. The RSF, led by Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, better known as Hemedit, has also been receiving weapons, including drones, from Wagner for months. The mercenary group has stationed troops across the border in eastern Libya. Although technically a private company, Wagner has been an integral part of Russia’s assertion of military and foreign power abroad, especially in Africa. A recent convoy carrying Russian weapons to the RSF crossed into Sudan via Chad on September 6.
Violence in Sudan has steadily worsened since April, when negotiations to return the government to civilian rule failed. Al-Burhan has been de facto ruler of the country since a coup in 2021, following the ouster of the country’s president Omar al-Bashir in 2019. A key point of tension has been whether and how quickly the 100,000-strong military force RSF would be inducted into the armed forces. the Sudanese army. On April 15, the RSF launched an attack on Khartoum. The fighting escalated in Khartoum on September 16, with images of the Greater Nile Petroleum Oil Company Tower skyscraper going up in flames and circulating widely on X (formerly known as Twitter). But Raymond says the attacks also appear to have hit two Justice Department buildings, including the Homeland Security headquarters.