The people of Sudan have been closely following the intense battles for control over the armored corps base in southern Khartoum. The Rapid Support Forces have launched several attacks on the base in quick succession as they vied for control over this crucial Sudanese army base. For the past three days, the Sudanese people have been trying to figure out exactly what is going on amid contradictory reports and narratives.
Early on, the RSF shared clips showing their forces inside the compound, while the army released statements emphasizing that they had repelled the attacks and regained complete control of the area.Some analysts have labeled the battle for the armored corps base as a potentially pivotal turning point in this war, suggesting it could influence the outcome of the conflict.The people have undeniably grown weary of this war that began 132 days ago.
Each additional day of war brings more suffering and increased destruction to the capital. Therefore, there are calls for the armored corps to vacate their base and engage in the battle, enabling the army to deploy its formidable firepower.
However, while the battle for control of this base is indeed crucial, we must see it within the context of the overall progression of this war, the tactics used by the army and the RSF, and the complications that come with urban warfare, which is inherently extremely challenging.
Urban warfare presents unique challenges for various reasons. One is that they are fought in densely populated areas, which increases the number of civilian casualties. The density of buildings also affords the faction on the defensive better maneuverability, making it easier for them to hide and maneuver, and complicates the offensive. This density also restricts visibility, posing challenges for soldiers to identify and target the enemy effectively. Moreover, armored vehicles, for instance, struggle to move in residential areas, military experts, as they chase small units moving across homes and streets. This complicates strikes and renders avoiding civilian casualties more difficult. Indeed, armored vehicles become an easy target for the opposing side under these circumstances.
The Rapid Support Forces are trained and armed to fight with agility in small units, which helps them launch hit-and-run attacks. The situation has become even more complicated since they began storming residential neighborhoods, occupying civilians’ homes, and turning them into RSF hospitals and barracks.
The army, on the other hand, is unaccustomed to urban warfare and guerrilla tactics. Its structure, combat doctrine, and armaments are not suited to such battles. While this has slowed them down, it has also significantly reduced civilian casualties, which is commendable. Urban wars are often highly destructive, as shown by previous conflicts fought in population centers. The battle of Grozny (1994-1995) between Russian forces and Chechen separatists witnessed the most intense bombardment since World War II, to the deaths of about 27,000 civilians, in addition to thousands of combatants, and destroyed the city.
The Americans also got a taste of the bitterness of urban warfare. The Battle of Fallujah (2004) was one the most brutal battles of the Iraq War, and the US Army considered it the most intense urban combat it had been engaged in since the Battle of Hue in Vietnam in 1968.
The Syrian city of Aleppo is another testament to the horrors of urban warfare and the devastation it leaves behind. Once the country’s primary economic center, much of the city was turned into rubble after battles erupted there in 2012. United Nations estimates put the death toll above 100,000 and believes that over a million Aleppons were displaced. The city was scorched to the ground - neither hospitals, nor schools, historical landmarks, essential facilities, infrastructure, factories, or places of residence were spared.
These are just a few examples, to which we can add the battles of Kandahar, Sarajevo, and many others.
In Sudan, the scale of the destruction has been immense since the first few weeks of the conflict, and the complications inherent in urban warfare quickly became evident. The Rapid Support Forces had already been in the capital, and their forces were scattered across the cities. Moreover, they were more prepared when the first shot was fired. The deployments they made prior to the war indicate that they had been preparing for it - large numbers of soldiers were stationed near the Merowe Airport, stocked their camps with supplies, equipment, and ammunition, and purchased and rented houses in strategic locations.
In contrast, the army was obviously caught off guard by the attacks on its bases, including the headquarters of General Command and General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, as well as Khartoum airport, the occupation of the Presidential Palace, radio and television stations, several ministries, military bases, and service facilities. Nonetheless, it swiftly got back on its feet after this significant initial blow, turning its attention to the large camps and supply centers of the Rapid Support Force. Later on, they adopted a long-term strategy targeting the RSF’s heavy weaponry and depleting their ammunition. Initially, this was mostly done through airstrikes; with time, artillery, and then mobile forces like special operations units were used. Throughout, it has been gathering information through reconnaissance flights and intelligence units.
While looking into the strategy adopted by the army, I found an old recording in which General Saad el-Din el-Shazly, a prominent Egyptian officer during the October War. In it, he emphasizes that in such battles, holding onto territory is not the utmost priority. Instead, destroying the enemy forces is paramount, as their liquidation leaves the territory uncontested.
However, despite the significance of the battle for the armored corps base, I believe it may not definitively determine the outcome of the war.
Urban warfare, characterized by its slow pace, necessitates patience and carefully devised strategies