The swift takeover on Tuesday of a major city in Sudan’s agricultural breadbasket by the Rapid Support Forces paramilitary group has sent shock waves throughout the country, cast doubt on the might of its rival — Sudan’s army — and opened a new and potentially deadlier phase in the eight-month civil war that has devastated one of Africa’s largest nations.
It took the paramilitary group only four days to capture the city, Wad Madani, where tens of thousands of people had fled from the capital, Khartoum, about 100 miles northwest, when the war started in April. The fall of Wad Madani has sent them running again, and dealt a huge blow to the prestige of an army that had promised to protect them.
“Depression is an understatement about how we feel,” said Omnia Elgunaid, a 21-year-old international relations graduate who fled from Wad Madani to a village farther south on Tuesday. “People are devastated because they now feel unsafe everywhere in the country.”
The army confirmed in a statement on Tuesday evening that it had withdrawn from the city, and — in a highly unusual move — said it has started an investigation into why this defeat happened.
The army’s loss has raised questions about the future of its leader, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who is also Sudan’s head of state. It also heightens the risk, analysts said, that neighboring countries could be pulled into the war, and that foreign powers, such as the United Arab Emirates, already accused of fueling the war, will further intervene.
The latest dramatic turn in the war has confounded Sudanese citizens who now face the prospect of a Sudan ruled by a dreaded paramilitary force that has looted much of the capital and been accused of carrying out war crimes in the western Darfur region.
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