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Siege of El Obeid

Siege of El Obeid
Part of 2023 Sudan conflict
DateApril 15 – September 1, 2023
Location
Result

SAF victory

  • SAF repels several RSF attacks on the city between April 15 and May 23
  • RSF fully besiege El Obeid by May 30
  • By July, RSF come under of control the southern and western parts of the city, along with the El Obeid airport
  • By September, the Sudanese Armed Forces recaptured the city
Belligerents

Sudanese Armed Forces

  • 18th Division "Camel Forces"[1][2]
  • 5th Infantry Division
North Kordofan Police[3]
El Obeid Resistance Committee
Rapid Support Forces
Commanders and leaders
Fadlallah al-Tom
Faisal Alhassan[4]
Ahmed Ali[3]
Unknown
Casualties and losses
31+ military killed[5]
20+ police killed[6]
Unknown
Hundreds of civilians killed

The siege of El Obeid was a siege in El-Obeid, North Kordofan, Sudan, during the 2023 Sudan conflict. The battle began on April 15, and saw the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) capture the El Obeid airport from the Sudanese Army contingent in the city. Throughout April and May, the Sudanese Army repelled several RSF assaults on the city, although by May 30, the RSF fully surrounded the city and laid siege to it.

Prelude

War in Darfur

In 2003, the predominantly non-Arab Justice and Equality Movement and Sudan People's Liberation Movement, rebel movements based in southern and western Sudan (Darfur) launched attacks against Sudanese Army bases and their allies, the predominantly Arab Janjaweed militia. JEM and SPLM launched the attacks in opposition to dictator Omar al-Bashir, who promptly declared war against the militias. The war soon spread to central-south Sudan, in the provinces of North Kordofan, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile. Since 2003, the war has killed hundreds of thousands of people across Darfur, and displaced many more.

Throughout the war in Darfur, the city of El-Obeid, the capital of North Kordofan, has seen a smaller amount of violence compared to its southern and western counterparts. The city was primarily a hub for international aid to Darfur and South Sudan in the early 2010's.[7] El Obeid was also the center of several peace talks between the Bashir regime and SPLM-N rebels (after their split between Malik Agar and Abdelaziz al-Hilu in 2017).[8] In 2019, during the Sudanese Revolution, six protesters, including four children, were killed in a massacre by the Rapid Support Forces that drew heavy condemnation from international and Sudanese media.[9] From 2021 to 2023, the city saw heavy protests about a lack of available drinking water.[10] El Obeid is considered a strategic city in Sudan due to having the only airport in North Kordofan, with the airport being a center for United Nations missions in the disputed Abyei region.[11] The city is also known as the connecting point between Khartoum and Darfur.

RSF-Sudanese tensions

The Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which formed as a reconstitution of the Janjaweed in 2014, grew in political and military influence following a 2021 military coup against the civilian-military transitional government established following the Sudanese Revolution two years earlier. Tensions between the two coup leaders, Sudanese Army commander Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and RSF commander Hemedti, increased in early 2023 over disputes about absorbing the RSF into the Sudanese Armed Forces.[12] These tensions came to a head on April 15, 2023, despite attempts at peace.[12] RSF forces seized Khartoum International Airport, Sudanese bases in Merowe, and attacked Sudanese soldiers across Darfur and southern Sudan, including El Obeid.[12]

Siege

Initial skirmishes (April 15–16)

The RSF claimed control of the El Obeid airport on April 15, the first day of hostilities, along with the airports in Khartoum and Merowe.[13][14] The Sudanese Doctors' Union and local morgues stated that same day that thirteen people were killed in the city, and twenty more were injured.[15][16][17] Three more people were killed, and eleven wounded, on April 16.[16] On April 17, Sudanese forces in El Obeid claimed to have destroyed several RSF sites in the city in the previous days, and residents reported the day was a "cautious calm".[18][16] The local hospital, the El Daman hospital, closed after Sudanese soldiers stormed it in the days prior.[16] RSF soldiers instructed civilians on April 17 to evacuate the neighborhoods surrounding the now-destroyed airport due to the possibility of further clashes.[16] Between April 17 and April 19, the situation in El Obeid was relatively calm.[19][16]

RSF offensive on the city (April 20–23)

Clashes escalated at 9:00am on April 20 in the city following an RSF offensive against the south, west, and north of the city, with civilians stating fierce fighting took place at the El Obeid market and Sudanese Army's 5th Infantry division headquarters, along with attacks in the northern neighborhoods.[18] An RSF attack on policemen that day killed 20 and injured 40, with an unknown number of civilians injured and killed.[20] Sources in El Obeid, including doctors and the local doctors' union, stated at least 30 civilians were killed and 70 injured since fighting began on April 15.[21][22][23] Several homes were also destroyed in Sudanese Army airstrikes on the city.[23] Despite a nationwide ceasefire in effect from April 20, a worker for the International Organization for Migration was killed by crossfire in El Obeid on April 21.[24] Videos published that same day by Al Arabiya showed the extent of destruction in the city.[25] By April 23, many civilians living in al-Bant neighborhood had fled, and around 400 families sought shelter in al-Shorouk school.[26] Other schools throughout the city also housed refugees.[26] That same day, The Sudanese Army declared complete control of El Obeid.[27]

On April 25, residents of El Obeid began burials of civilians and soldiers killed in the fighting.[28] North Kordofan governor Fadlallah Mohammed Ali al-Tom also convened emergency meetings with state security and other officials regarding the battle in El Obeid, along with declaring a state of curfew and a ban on smuggling.[28][29] al-Tom stated at least 100 civilians were injured in the renewed fighting.[28] On April 27, the Cathedral of El Obeid was damaged in clashes.[30] Despite the ban on smuggling, looting was prevalent in El Obeid in early May, and humanitarian warehouses were being raided.[31] In early May, residents of El Obeid stated Sudanese army officials warned of the possibility of clashes, and ordered civilians not to attend the main market.[32]

Second RSF offensive and skirmishes (May 4–23)

On May 4, RSF forces launched a second attack on the city from the east and west, with fighting occurring at the 5th Infantry Division headquarters and al-Abyad neighborhood.[33][34] Local hospitals reported 12 people were killed and 30 wounded, excluding the injured who could not make it to the hospital.[35] Of the twelve killed, seven were children.[32] Five Sudanese soldiers were killed in an RSF attack on a training center in the west of the city.[35] In the renewed attacks, RSF forces took control of al-Bant neighborhood, and heavy shelling occurred in Shikan Square and al-Wahda neighborhood.[35] Three civilians were also killed in an attack on al-Sahwa neighborhood.[35] Analysts suggested that the RSF attempted intense raids on El Obeid to cut off the growing battles in Darfur and Khartoum.[36] The Sudanese Army claimed to have repelled the attack, although skirmishes continued in the days afterward.[33]

On May 7, 15 people were killed in an RSF attack on a village near El Obeid.[37] By May 16, the El Haman hospital was the sole hospital in El Obeid, and was running at 50% capacity.[38] Meanwhile, the closure of the city's markets and fighting on the outskirts caused a collapse in the gum arabic market, a staple of the economy in El Obeid.[39] A skirmish on May 23 enabled the RSF to consolidate control over the roads leading south and west of the city.[40] By late May, the RSF began making deals with tribal leaders surrounding El Obeid to protect the city from Sudanese Army reinforcements.[41]

Siege of El Obeid (May 30-September 1)

Clashes erupted again on May 30, after a failed RSF attempt to capture the El Obeid airport.[42] However, another RSF attack on the Arab Market in the city succeeded.[42] Three civilians were killed in the airport attack.[43] On June 2, World Food Programme warehouses were ransacked, with the organization releasing a statement deploring the attack.[44] By June 8, the schools housing refugees had closed, and the city was without power and water. Infant mortality rates in the city had spiked.[45] Humanitarian supplies were unable to reach the city, due to raids by RSF forces on the roads between El Obeid and White Nile state.[45] On June 13, RSF forces captured the northeastern road leading to El Obeid, near the town of Bara. RSF militiamen attempted to hijack cars from Bara civilians, but protests erupted.[46] The RSF also conducted attacks in El Rahad.[41] However, electricity was restored in El Obeid on June 13.[46]

Residents of El Obeid stated on June 14 that the Sudanese Army launched airstrikes against RSF positions in the city.[41][47] This was followed up on June 15 by aerial bombings by the SAF, displacing 64 families.[48][49] Around this time, RSF forces also raided the El Obeid oil refinery, which had been deserted by Sudanese Army troops at the start of the war.[50] Fighting continued in El Rahad as well, with civilians digging trenches to defend against RSF attacks.[49] Just a day later on June 16, the killing of six suspected RSF fighters by civilians in El Rahad, and the reprisal RSF attack that killed four, prompted many civilians in El Rahad to flee.[51] By mid-June, twenty civilians had been killed in the renewed attacks.[52]

Clashes died down in both El Obeid and El Rahad by June 19, and two days later, electricity was restored to El Obeid after an agreement was reached between pro-Army tribes and the RSF.[53] Trade and outside goods also resumed, and local groups began restoring water stations and communication lines. However, Greater Kordofan officials claimed that bilateral talks between the regional administration, Sudanese Army, and RSF were paused.[53] By late June, the RSF had established roadblocks on all roads leading out of El Obeid, and controlled most of the outer edges of the city.[54] Ahmed Ali, the leader of the El Obeid Resistance Committee, claimed that despite the SAF's presence at the international airport and the army headquarters in the city, they were not aiding civilians suffering from the growing lack of food, water, and other necessities.[54] Due to the lack of water and other necessities, state infrastructure began to crumble. Prisoners in the El Obeid prison were released, and markets and warehouses were ransacked by discontent civilians.[54] On July 3, a clash broke out west of El Obeid between a Joint Darfur Force convoy heading to El Fasher from White Nile to deliver fuel to the former.[55] Another clash between RSF and SAF on July 5 killed a child and injured four others.[56]

In the first week of July, the city received an influx of refugees from Bara, with refugees claiming the RSF was "terrorizing" the town after recently capturing it.[57][58] Residents from the village of Farajallah also claimed similar experiences with the RSF following their capture of the town.[59] Fighting broke out again on July 8, between the SAF and RSF across El Obeid.[57] During the battle, power to the western part of the city was cut off, and an aid convoy was seized by the RSF on July 11.[59] The SAF launched airstrikes on RSF bases in southern and western El Obeid on July 20, and that many civilian homes were destroyed in the process.[60][61] Residents stated that at least four people was killed and forty-five injured in the clashes, and the el-Safaa and el-Wehda neighborhoods faced the brunt of the damage.[62][63][64][65] The El Obeid Grand Market was also forced to close temporarily by SAF soldiers.[62]

In early August, much of the city returned to normal. The markets in the city reopened and no fighting was reported, however residents stated that the SAF would "[be] physically violent" against civilians when closing markets in the evening.[66] In clashes on August 12, the SAF reported they killed 26 RSF militants in the town of Farajallah.[67]

SAF victory

On August 14, video emerged of SAF soldiers of the 5th division celebrating the 69th anniversary of the founding of the Sudanese Armed Forces, with the commander Major General Faisal Alhassan in different parts of the city.[68] By September 1, it was reported that the RSF were no longer within El Obeid city limits, but clashes on the outskirts in late August killed 14 civilians and injured seventeen more. Fighting stopped on August 31.[69] Despite full SAF control of the city, tensions were still high at the Grand Market, and the power was out in the city.[69]

References

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Siege of El Obeid
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