Darfur Needs Bolder International Intervention
Darfur Needs Bolder International Intervention
Sudan’s Imperilled Transition: Policy Recommendations for the U.S.
Sudan’s Imperilled Transition: Policy Recommendations for the U.S.
Open Letter / Africa

Darfur Needs Bolder International Intervention

With the high-level conference on the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) set to begin in Addis Ababa on 26 May 2005, the International Crisis Group is urging much stronger international intervention to stop the ongoing killing in Darfur.

In a letter addressed to world leaders (full text below), including those meeting at the conference, Crisis Group President Gareth Evans highlights two areas in particular that immediately demand a bold new approach: the mandate of the international troop presence, and its size and capacity.

The current mandate of AMIS, as authorised by the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council, focuses on monitoring and verification, leaving to the Sudanese government the basic responsibility to protect civilians and humanitarian workers.

"Khartoum has utterly failed in its responsibility to protect its own citizens", says Evans. "And AMIS's own protection role is so highly qualified as to be almost meaningless".

The force's mandate must be strengthened both to enable and to encourage it to undertake all necessary measures, including proactive action, to protect civilians in Darfur. Khartoum's reluctance to accept an expanded mandate must be met with a decision to commence planning for the deployment, should this become necessary, of a fully-mandated protection force in a non-permissive environment.

On the force's size and capacity, it is clear the current security and humanitarian situation in Darfur demands a much greater presence than is currently in train. Crisis Group's own estimate is that a minimum presence of 12,000-15,000 personnel is needed within the next 60 days.

"It has become apparent that the AU, with the best will in the world, will be unable, without substantial further international support, to deploy an effective force of anything like this size in anything like this time-frame", says Evans.

Ideally, the gap would be filled by more African personnel with strong international support, but if this proves unworkable in the short time available, a multinational bridging force will be the only solution to tackle Darfur's most urgent protection needs. NATO would appear to be the best equipped organisation to provide, and lead, the additional troops required in the necessary numbers and within the necessary time-frame.

[UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan; AU Commission Chairperson Alpha Oumar Konaré; AU Chairperson President Olusegun Obasanjo; NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer; Javier Solana Madariaga, Secretary General of the EU Council and High Representative for the CFSP; UK Prime Minister Tony Blair; U.S. President George W. Bush; and French President Jacques Chirac]

I write in the context of the forthcoming high-level conference on the AU Mission in Sudan (AMIS) in Addis Ababa on 26 May 2005 to urge your support for much stronger   intervention by the international community to stop the ongoing killing in Darfur.

Despite repeated pledges to stop the violence, the Sudanese government has utterly failed to do so.  Political negotiations have stalled and, despite the presence of AU troops on the ground and the UN Security Council's important action in relation to accountability and sanctions, the civilian population of Darfur continues to grievously suffer.

This is a highly complex situation, and there are multiple elements in the necessary international action plan -- as spelled out by Crisis Group in its Policy Briefing, A New Sudan Action Plan, of 26 April 2005.  But two issues in particular require, urgently, a bold new approach:  the mandate of the international troop presence, and its size and capacity.

Protection Force Mandate

The current mandate of AMIS, as authorised by the AU Peace and Security Council, focuses on monitoring and verification, leaving to the Sudanese government the basic responsibility -- which it has utterly failed to discharge -- for protection of civilians and humanitarian workers. AMIS's own protection role, so highly qualified as to be almost meaningless, is only to 'protect civilians whom it encounters under imminent threat and in the immediate vicinity, within resources and capability'. The force's mandate must be strengthened to both enable and encourage it to undertake all necessary measures, including proactive action, to protect civilians in Darfur. Without a stronger mandate, the ability of AMIS -- or any other international force -- to provide protection will remain extremely limited, regardless of the force size.

The Sudanese government may well be reluctant to accept any change of mandate. But its periodic arguments that it is not in full control of the Janjaweed militias, and above all the continuation of serious violence which it has repeatedly pledged to stop, must now become the basis for international insistence that this happen. That insistence should be backed by a decision to commence planning for the deployment, should this become necessary, of a fully-mandated protection force in a non-permissive environment.

Protection Force Size

The current security and humanitarian situation in Darfur requires a much greater presence than the 2,341 Phase I military personnel now on the ground, or the 7,731 (including 1,560 civilian police) authorised by the AU and targeted for arrival in September.  Crisis Group's own estimate -- developed after consultation with military experts in the AU, UN and elsewhere -- is that a minimum presence of 12,000-15,000 personnel is needed now to undertake the tasks of protecting villages against further attack or destruction; protecting IDPs against forced repatriation and intimidation; protecting women from systematic rape outside the IDP camps; providing security for humanitarian operations; and neutralising the Janjaweed militias. The minimum need, as we see it, is for a battalion group (infantry plus support elements) to be deployed in each of the eight sectors, with a battalion as force reserve, 700-1,000 military observers, 1,500-2,000 civilian police, and 1,000 headquarters and other staff.

It has become apparent that the AU, with the best will in the world, will be unable without substantial further international support, to deploy an effective force of anything like this size in anything like the necessary time-frame -- around 60 days. It has only just achieved the Phase I military component (with a shortfall still on the civilian police side) and at the present rate of progress is likely to find difficulty in meeting its September target for the remaining authorised deployment. There appear to be only two available options for achieving the force size urgently needed.

Option I: More African Personnel, with Strong International Support

While the preferred position here would clearly be for a single African lead country to provide most of the required additional personnel, African states currently have 18,600 assigned to UN peace operations, with more expected to contribute to UNMIS, IGASOM and other planned operations elsewhere, and a lead deployment of several thousand African troops is not likely to be immediately available from any one country on the continent, and almost certainly not from sub-Saharan Africa. North Africa offers possibilities worth exploring, but Morocco -- one such country with strong military capability -- is not a member of the AU, should this be thought relevant, and the experience with Egyptian forces already in Darfur indicates that there are deep sensitivities on the IDP side associated with the substantial presence of any Arab force, in particular from Egypt, which would need to be taken into consideration.

An aggregation of smaller numbers of troop contributors sufficient to meet the required total might be possible -- the AU itself  has foreshadowed a possible increase in AMIS to 12,300 to assist those displaced to return home for the 2006 planting season.  But there will be obvious difficulties in deploying, on an urgent basis, sufficient numbers of trained troops with the necessary interoperability.

All this suggests that the only way the necessary numbers could be found and effectively deployed from within Africa would be for the AU to accept and request a far higher degree of international involvement than has so far been contemplated, in particular in the following areas:

  • Force generation and deployment: donors must be prepared to underwrite the costs of the expanded force and the delivery of troops to Darfur, and be operationally engaged in their deployment: this will require strategic lift from countries of origin and ground transportation within theatre.
  • Force preparation: because of the scope and complexity of the challenges, troops deploying to Darfur will require the highest possible degree of preparation, standardisation and interoperability. The AU will need support in rapidly developing a standard force preparation package for all contingents, both military and civilian police (CIVPOL). This can be achieved through the use of existing peacekeeping training facilities on the continent, 'fly away' training teams from AU, EU and NATO member states and in-theatre instruction.
  • Capacity: in order to meet the demands posed by rapid expansion of AMIS, the AU's partners must be prepared to provide staff and advisers at all levels of the mission. Primary focus should be on the Force HQ in El Fasher, which requires a 24 hour Joint Operations Centre with requisite intelligence, communications and command tools. A Joint Logistics Coordination Centre is also necessary to sustain the force and enhance its operational flexibility.
  • Mobility: an expanded and more assertive AMIS presence will require greatly enhanced mobility in order to fulfil its mission. The existing fleet of helicopters need to be upgraded or replaced to accommodate armament, forward-looking infra-red (FLIR), tactical communications equipment and night operations capability. Current restrictions on night flying must be lifted and difficulties with fuel distribution resolved. At the same time, there is a need for additional fixed wing transport aircraft for in-theatre movement of troops, and more suitable ground transportation.
  • No-Fly Zone: an effective enforcement mechanism must be established in support of UNSC Resolution 1591, which prohibits offensive military flights within Darfur. A decisive first step would be for the UNSC and AU to insist that the GOS remove all fixed and rotary wing military aircraft from Darfur and refrain from subsequently re-entering the airspace. In addition, concrete measures to enforce compliance with the no-fly zone, including direct monitoring of airports and control of air space should be considered.

Under this option, it would be possible to preserve the principle (which would clearly be helpful in achieving consensus within the AU) that only African personnel would interface with Sudanese -- including  IDPs, militia, government troops and rebels in on-the-ground operational situations. Non-African personnel, although necessarily present in-theatre in significant numbers (as communications and logistics specialists, aircrew, staff officers and the like)   would be confined  -- with the possible exception of helicopter pilots flying tactical missions -- to various supporting roles.

Option II: A Multinational Bridging Force

If the first option proves unachievable within the time-frame envisaged, as is quite likely, then a further option must be seriously contemplated if the international community is to meet its responsibility to protect the people of Darfur, however difficult or unpalatable this may appear at first sight to various parties.

NATO would appear to be the best equipped organisation to provide -- and lead -- the additional troops required in the necessary numbers and with the necessary short lead-time. It has ample planning, command and control and logistic support and sufficiently interoperable troop resources at its disposal; with Turkey as a member, it could potentially draw on a large pool of well-trained Muslim but non-Arab forces, who may be thought particularly appropriate in a Darfur context; and has already taken one step in this direction by agreeing to meet an AU request to provide some training support.

There are no obvious alternative troop suppliers. Although individual non-African countries like the UK, France and Germany may have the necessary capacity, it is unlikely that any of them would, with their present commitments elsewhere, wish to take on an operation of this size individually, either under their own flag or as an EU-flagged 'lead nation' (as with the French-led Operation Artemis in the DRC in 2003).  The EU has a developing multinational force capability, but its recently announced Battle Groups are not likely to be fully operational until 2007, and it is difficult to envisage the 'Berlin Plus' arrangements, involving a European-badged operation with NATO support,  producing an agreed solution in the time available

Such a NATO operation should be viewed as essentially a 'bridging' force, designed to tackle Darfur's most urgent protection needs. The imperative need is to get additional capable forces on the ground now. Having NATO supplement AMIS would provide the best means in the short term to fulfil the operational requirements of civilian protection in Darfur, filling the gap until such time as the AU is fully staffed and mission capable.

Khartoum is likely to be even more strongly opposed to any proposal for a multinational force not confined to Africans than it will be to the strengthening of the force mandate. But the international community cannot let Khartoum dictate its fulfilment of its responsibility to protect those at risk.  It has already accepted non-African forces in southern Sudan and the Nuba Mountains, after the exertion of international pressure. Ideally, the government of Khartoum would acquiesce in the face of a unified call -- in which the AU will need to join -- for its cooperation.  If it does not, and the killing continues, the international community will have no alternative but to consider the deployment of such a protection force without its consent, even though a much larger force than that here proposed would clearly be necessary in a non-permissive environment.

The bold options here proposed are no more than the minimum necessary to stabilise a very difficult and dangerous current situation.  Further decisions will be required for action to ensure the return of the over 2 million refugees and internally displaced, or if the situation deteriorates further.

Protecting civilians in Darfur represents a significant challenge for the international community and the AU in particular. While Khartoum seeks to persuade the international community that the situation is gradually stabilising, its actions ensure that the problems in Darfur will persist, discrediting the notion that it is willing to assume the responsibility for protecting its own people.

No single actor will be able to resolve the crisis in Darfur alone. Only a partnership of diverse military, civilian and humanitarian  actors -- including the  AU, EU, NATO, UN, and NGOs -- will succeed in providing an adequate degree of protection for the civilian population and laying the foundation for a secure environment and a stable peace.

I urge the participants at the 26 May conference to take up this challenge and do their part to protect those at risk in Darfur.




Sudan’s Imperilled Transition: Policy Recommendations for the U.S.

In a 1 February 2022 hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Crisis Group’s President & CEO Dr. Comfort Ero testified on the escalating situation in Sudan and outlined four main recommendations for the U.S. to help restore the civilian-led transition to democracy.

Good morning/afternoon, Chairman Menendez, Ranking Member Risch and distinguished members of the Committee. My name is Dr. Comfort Ero, and I am the President and CEO of the International Crisis Group. Previously I served as the organization’s Africa program director and I have spent my professional and academic career focusing on peace and security issues in Africa. The International Crisis Group is a global organisation committed to the prevention, mitigation and resolution of deadly conflict. We cover over 50 conflict situations around the world and our presence in Sudan dates back more than two decades.[fn]Crisis Group Africa Report N°281, Safeguarding Sudan’s Revolution, 21 October 2019; Jonas Horner, “After the Coup, Restoring Sudan’s Transition”, Crisis Group Commentary, 5 November 2021; Crisis Group Africa Briefing N°168, The Rebels Come to Khartoum: How to Implement Sudan’s New Peace Agreement, 23 February 2021.Hide Footnote

I very much appreciate the opportunity to speak to you about the deteriorating situation in Sudan today. The country is at a dangerous crossroads. Not for the first time in its history, the military has turned its back on the demands of the Sudanese people for more just and representative rule by violently seizing power. The coup on October 25 brought a sudden halt to a civilian-military coalition that since 2019 has been charged with steering Sudan toward elections and full civilian rule.[fn]Crisis Group Report, Safeguarding Sudan’s Revolution, op. cit.; Horner, “After the Coup, Restoring Sudan’s Transition”, op.cit. It was a major reversal in a transition that had brought hope to so many in the Horn of Africa and beyond. I will share with you my analysis of the current situation in Sudan and recommendations for steps the United States might take to help guide it back on the path toward greater democracy and stability.


By way of background, the transition that was interrupted on October 25 followed 30 years of rule by the notorious strongman Omar al-Bashir.

  • After coming to office in a coup in June 1989, Bashir maintained his hold on power by repressing political opposition, fighting costly counter-insurgencies in the country’s peripheries and underwriting his factious security sector with patronage-driven expenditure that ate up, by some estimates, 70 per cent of the national budget.[fn]Shortly after taking office, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, who was mandated to lead the civilian-military transition in August 2019, listed as an ambition driving down military expenditure to 20 per cent of the national budget. He said in some years, that budget line had stood at 80 per cent. “Sudan PM seeks to end the country’s pariah status”, AP, 25 August 2019.Hide Footnote
  • The patronage system that Bashir built eventually bankrupted the country and contributed to the strongman’s ouster. A small cabal of favoured cronies including Bashir’s Islamist allies from the National Congress Party, senior military officers (many of them drawn from the tiny riverine elite that has dominated Sudan’s military and politics for decades) and newly minted allies such as the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which was blamed for some of the worst violence in the western region of Darfur, benefited substantially from Sudan’s rigged, lopsided economy.[fn]“Who are Sudan’s RSF and their Commander Hemeti?”, Al Jazeera, 6 June 2019.Hide Footnote These same actors continue to try to preserve their privileges atop Sudan’s political, economic and security establishment.
  • Popular frustration over political repression, rising prices and a sclerotic economy that could not absorb Sudan’s ranks of unemployed youths helped trigger the protests that eventually drove Bashir from power. The uprising began in the south-eastern towns of Damazin and Sennar, where crowds took to the streets on 13 December 2018 in response to a tripling of bread prices. By the time the protests reached Atbara, the historic bastion of unionism in Sudan, demonstrators were demanding regime change. Against long odds and despite heavy repression, the protesters eventually overwhelmed the security forces, who staged a palace coup against Bashir on 11 April 2019.  
  • The military tried to maintain the upper hand but was forced under pressure both from the protest movement and external actors to compromise and accept to share power with civilians. International revulsion over a 3 June 2019 massacre of protesters encamped outside the military headquarters was particularly important in forcing the generals to cede to the will of the Sudanese people.[fn]“Sudan commemorates the June 3 Massacre”, Dabanga Sudan, 3 June 2021.Hide Footnote Under the terms of a 17 August Constitutional Declaration, the country would be governed by a hybrid civilian-military coalition for 39 months leading up to elections.
  • The task before that coalition was enormous. The new cabinet headed by the technocrat and diplomat Abdalla Hamdok was charged with breathing new life into Sudan’s anaemic economy, reforming political institutions to lay the ground for elections and delivering justice to the many Sudanese victims of atrocities during Bashir’s rule – and in the weeks following his fall. Despite the formidable obstacles the authorities faced, that coalition represented the country’s best hope for emerging into a stable, prosperous and democratic future and was a source of hope for those supporting democratic renewal in other countries in the region.
  • Always reluctant participants in the alliance, the generals barely disguised their opposition to the Hamdok administration’s reforms and were particularly opposed to efforts to deliver justice and to reshape the country’s economy. In defiance of the United States government and others who warned them against doing so, they seized power and ousted the civilians.

The October 25 Coup and Its Aftermath

Today, unfortunately, the picture looks grim. The military violently applied the brakes on the transition in the early hours of October 25 when they placed Hamdok under house arrest, rounded up numerous other civilian officials in the administration, declared a state of emergency and dissolved key institutions including the cabinet. Since then, Sudan’s military chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan has taken a series of steps to reverse the reforms the civilian-led administration had rolled out, including by disbanding a committee charged with reclaiming public assets, by packing the Sovereign Council, which serves as the country’s executive, with his allies and by appointing Bashir-era figures into key posts including in the judiciary and security forces.[fn]Crisis Group EU Watch List 2022, 27 January 2022.Hide Footnote The military attempted some window dressing when it reinstated Hamdok on 21 November, a move Sudanese protesters rightly dismissed as an effort to legitimise their power grab. Some efforts to stimulate talks among Sudanese actors to find a way out of the crisis continue although the prospects of a resolution appear dim.

[Sudan] has been on a downhill trajectory since the coup.

Overall, the country has been on a downhill trajectory since the coup. On 2 January, Hamdok resigned in frustration after failing to persuade the generals to stick to their commitments under the August 2019 constitutional charter, and in particular to give him a free hand to appoint a new cabinet. In the meantime, the public’s frustration has been growing. For the past few weeks, Sudanese people across the country have taken to the streets to signal their revulsion at the military’s power grab. The general’s response to the protests has come right out of the Bashir playbook. The security forces have repeatedly fired into crowds, killing dozens, according to human rights groups and the UN.[fn]“Bachelet condemns killings of peaceful protesters in Sudan”, UN, 18 November 2021.Hide Footnote A late December decree by military chief Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan gave the police effective immunity for their actions. Still, the Sudanese people continue to risk their lives by staging protests, work boycotts and other strike actions.

While it is not yet clear who will come out on top in this contest between the security forces and the street, there is evidence to suggest that the generals have gravely miscalculated the strength of their hand. This is a different Sudan from the one in which the army captured control of the state at least five times in the past, including in 1989 when Bashir took office.[fn]"A history of Sudan coups”, Statista, 25 October 2021.Hide Footnote Sudan has one of the youngest populations in the world.[fn]“After the Uprising: Including Sudanese Youth”, Chr. Michelsen Institute, 2020.Hide Footnote Six in ten Sudanese are aged between fifteen and 30 – and the current generation rejects the notion that the country should go back to being governed by an unaccountable, out-of-touch elite.[fn]Sudan’s Political Impasse”, The Horn (Crisis Group podcast), 26 January 2022.Hide Footnote This mobilised, youthful population showed its power at the end of 2018 when it rose up in protest at Bashir’s repressive, kleptocratic rule. The protest movement captured the imagination of pro-democracy campaigners well beyond Sudan with its diversity, with the prominent role that women played – sometimes outnumbering men in demonstrations – with its tenacity, and ultimately with its success. Against what many viewed as tall odds, it brought a halt to Bashir’s rule. Since the coup, this movement has again shown its strength by mobilising millions of Sudanese to take to the streets and send a clear signal to the generals that they will not, as past generations of officers did, get away with imposing their will on the Sudanese people.[fn]“Deaths Reported in Sudan as ‘March of Millions’ Demands Restoration of Civilian Rule”, Voice of America, 30 October 2021.Hide Footnote

Getting the transition back on track would serve both the people of Sudan’s democratic aspirations and the interests of the United States.

Getting the transition back on track would serve both the people of Sudan’s democratic aspirations and the interests of the United States and other regional and international actors in the strategically important Horn of Africa – where Sudan sits between major regional powers Ethiopia and Egypt and shares a border with seven countries, several in the throes of conflict themselves. Support for Sudan’s transition would comport with the U.S. government’s stated commitment to champion democratic values and to “demonstrate that democracies can deliver by improving the lives of their own people”[fn]“President Biden to Convene Leaders’ Summit for Democracy”, White House, 11 August 2021.Hide Footnote . It would also be the surest pathway to medium- and long-term stability in the country.


The United States is one of Sudan’s most important external partners. It provides about half a billion dollars in assistance annually and was a champion of efforts to reconnect Sudan’s economy with international financial institutions. Given these ties and the United States government’s relations with all the main regional actors, the U.S. is well positioned to support efforts to reverse the military’s power grab and set Sudan back on a path toward elections and representative government. Specifically, it could:

  • Press the generals to immediately halt violence against protesters and coordinate targeted sanctions to hold them to account: As outlined, Sudan’s security forces have responded to peaceful protests by indiscriminately shooting into crowds and sometimes reportedly even pursuing fleeing and wounded demonstrators into hospitals.[fn]“Sudanese security forces ‘hunt down’ injured protesters in hospital”, France 24, 25 January 2022.Hide Footnote This pattern of behaviour, on top of its grave human cost, threatens to poison relations between the parties and render a resolution even further beyond reach. In coordination with partners including the African Union (AU) and the European Union, the United States should make clear that the generals will face consequences including asset freezes and travel bans if they continue to kill unarmed demonstrators. The White House should simultaneously convene an interagency process to design a targeted sanctions programs aimed at key figures in the military and outline that it is willing to deploy these against individuals that continue to sanction the killing of protesters or obstruct progress toward elections more broadly.
  • Support Sudanese-led efforts to rerail the transition: The United States has already signalled its backing for efforts to stimulate negotiations among the generals and civilian groups including the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), the coalition that spearheaded the protest movement and neighbourhood resistance committees, which play an integral role in the day-to-day organisation of protests and have proved a particularly effective channel of resistance to the military coup. The United States should warn the generals against taking precipitous measures that could derail these potential talks, including refraining from unilaterally appointing a new prime minister. It should further insist that these talks are maximally inclusive and in particular that they should take on board the views of the resistance committees. The 2019 power-sharing agreement should be the blueprint for a compromise that could restore civilian-military governance and lead to elections.
  • Withhold financial assistance until the military reverses its coup: In the immediate aftermath of the military takeover, the United states suspended $700 million in assistance to Sudan. This was the right step given the generals’ brazen decision to terminate the power-sharing agreement. The United States should make clear to the generals that this support will not resume unless they accept to return to the path toward elections laid out in the 2019 power-sharing agreement. In the meantime, the United States should advance with efforts to repurpose some of its support to civil society groups and also to work with partners including the UN to offer direct assistance to Sudan’s long-suffering people.
  • Urge all regional actors to back a return to a civilian-led dispensation: Many on the Sudanese street perceive some external actors, namely Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, as tacitly backing military rule.[fn]Sudan’s Political Impasse”, op. cit.Hide Footnote Such perceptions will ultimately be damaging to those countries’ standing in Sudan if it is able to reinvigorate its transitional process. But it is still possible for these key regional actors to play an important role in helping Sudan return to a civilian-led transitional process, thereby protecting their relations with the Sudanese people. Given his strong background in regional diplomacy, Special Envoy Satterfield should be well positioned to engage these actors and urge them to use their privileged relations with Sudan’s generals to convey to them that the power-sharing agreement they torpedoed remains Sudan’s best and perhaps only chance for stability, a goal they all profess to share. With the welcome appointment of a new ambassador to Khartoum, the United States could play a key role in marshalling a coalition of actors within and outside Sudan that can help steer the country back toward the path to elections.

Sudan is at a historic hinge-point. The military’s power grab has derailed a transition that was an inspiration well beyond Sudan, and still could be, if the generals step back and allow Sudan’s civilians to steer the country to elections. With a piling set of challenges – not least an economy in deep distress, resurging violence in Darfur and elsewhere, and a tottering peace deal with armed groups – the generals can hardly afford to stonewall the Sudanese people’s demands for change. The world – and the United States – should stand with Sudan’s people in their quest for a more democratic and accountable government, an outcome that represents the country’s best hope for achieving long-run political, social and economic stability.

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