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US sanctions RSF commanders as violence intensifies in Sudan's El Fasher

The sanctions come after a senior US official warned that the city of El Fasher in North Darfur is on the "precipice of a large-scale massacre."
Fighters of the Sudan Liberation Movement, a Sudanese rebel group active in Sudan's Darfur State.

WASHINGTON — Amid signs of an imminent Rapid Support Forces offensive on the Sudanese city of El Fasher, the Treasury Department on Wednesday imposed sanctions on two of the paramilitary group’s commanders. 

The sanctions come as the RSF continues its monthslong siege of El Fasher, the only city in Sudan’s Darfur region that remains under the control of the rival Sudanese army. The North Darfur city is home to some 1.5 million people, 800,000 of whom are displaced by the civil war. 

Months of escalating violence in El Fasher, including airstrikes, rockets and the burning of entire villages, have pushed the population to the brink of famine, according to the United Nations. 

Ali Yagoub Gibril, the RSF's commander for Central Darfur, and Osman Mohamed Hamid Mohamed, the group’s head of operations, were blacklisted under an executive order issued by President Joe Biden last year that paved the way for sanctions on Sudan’s warring parties. 

“While the Sudanese people continue to demand an end to this conflict, these commanders have been focused on expanding to new fronts and battling for control of more territory,” Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson said in a statement Wednesday. 

A power struggle between Sudan's top generals erupted into civil war in April 2023. More than a year of fighting between forces loyal to the country’s de facto leader, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who heads the Sudanese Armed Forces, and Gen. Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo, who leads the RSF, has created one of the world's worst humanitarian crises. 

More than 2 million people have fled across Sudan’s borders, mainly into neighboring Chad, South Sudan and Egypt, according to the UN’s refugee agency. At least 14,000 people have been killed in the 13-month war and almost 30,000 have been injured, according to the UN. Local monitoring groups say the true death toll is likely much higher. 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement Wednesday that the US government was prepared “to take additional measures” against individuals and groups that “actively escalate the war,” including in El Fasher. The Biden administration has been reluctant to impose sanctions on RSF leader Hemedti, who was also a commander in Sudan’s notorious Janjaweed militia that committed atrocities in Darfur in the early 2000s.  

In December, the State Department formally determined that members of both the SAF and RSF had committed war crimes in Sudan, and that the RSF and allied militias had carried out crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing in West Darfur. 

US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield warned Tuesday that El Fasher is “on the precipice of a large-scale massacre.” 

“​​The RSF must lift its siege of the city. The SAF must protect critical infrastructure,” she said in a post on her X account. “There will be direct and immediate consequences for those responsible for an offensive on El Fasher.”  

Two children and at least one caregiver were killed when an SAF airstrike fell near a pediatric hospital in El Fasher on Saturday, the medical charity Doctors Without Borders said. A day earlier, the charity treated 160 people who were wounded in clashes in North Darfur, at least 25 of whom died of their injuries.