At any time for nearly four years as many as 14,000 Sudanese militiamen have been fighting in Yemen in tandem with the local militia aligned with the Saudis, according to several Sudanese fighters who have returned and Sudanese lawmakers who are attempting to track it. Hundreds, at least, have died there.
Almost all the Sudanese fighters appear to come from the battle-scarred and impoverished region of Darfur, where some 300,000 people were killed and 1.2 million displaced during a dozen years of conflict over diminishing arable land and other scarce resources.
Most belong to the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, a tribal militia previously known as the Janjaweed. They were blamed for the systematic rape of women and girls, indiscriminate killing and other war crimes during Darfur’s conflict, and veterans involved in those horrors are now leading their deployment to Yemen — albeit in a more formal and structured campaign.
Some families are so eager for the money that they bribe militia officers to let their sons go fight. Many are ages 14 to 17. In interviews, five fighters who have returned from Yemen and another about to depart said that children made up at least 20 percent of their units. Two said children were more than 40 percent.
To keep a safe distance from the battle lines, their Saudi or Emirati overseers commanded the Sudanese fighters almost exclusively by remote control, directing them to attack or retreat through radio headsets and GPS systems provided to the Sudanese officers in charge of each unit, the fighters all said.