Put simply, recent U.S. intelligence assessments confirm what al-Amin has reported: that the UAE/Saudi war in Yemen is beginning to unravel. Not only are the Emiratis and Saudis mired in a seemingly endless conflict, their 8,000-plus Sudanese mercenaries are beginning to turn on their Emirati and Saudi officers. This is the result of Saudi penny-pinching (large numbers of Sudanese soldiers are owed months of backpay) and the fact that UAE/Saudi commanders regularly and knowingly order the Sudanese units into virtual suicide missions against the Houthi rebels. According to the Middle East Eye, as of November of 2017, upwards of 500 Sudanese soldiers have died in the conflict.
“These guys are cannon fodder for the Saudis, and they know it,” Michael Horton, a Yemen expert and fellow at the Jamestown Foundation, says. The result has been a number of incidents in which Sudanese soldiers have murdered their UAE or Saudi commanders, what Horton described as “a nasty piece of business.” …
But then the Saudis got some unexpected help. During a visit to Riyadh in April of 2015, Taha Osman al-Hussein, the powerful director of the office of Sudan’s president, suggested that the Saudis use Sudan’s military to help fight the Yemen war in exchange for Emirati and Saudi economic aid. At first, the Saudis were hesitant: they mistrusted Sudan’s ties to Iran and its support for Sunni Islamist groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood. The Saudis also feared that the international community would condemn them for allying with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, accused by the International Criminal Court of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes in Sudan’s western province of Darfur—where Bashir had unleashed the murderous “Janjaweed” Arab militia against breakaway rebel groups. The Janjaweed has been charged by the State Department with the deaths of 400,000 Darfur civilians between 2004 and 2007.
Eventually, however, Saudi King Salman gave his blessing to the arrangement because the war in Yemen was going poorly and because Sudan had taken steps to distance itself from Iran. The deal was sealed in May of 2015 during a high-level meeting that included Bashir, Taha al-Hussein, King Salman, and then-Saudi defense minister Mohammed bin Salman (MbS)—who later, in his new role as Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, would be implicated in the murder of American journalist Jamal Khashoggi. In effect, Bashir had decided to put his country’s economy in the hands of the Saudis, while, for their part, the Saudis decided that making a deal with the devil was preferable to losing in Yemen. “Both sides were desperate,” Dr. Suliman Baldo, a senior policy advisor at the Enough Project (which tracks mass corruption and atrocities in Africa), told me. “Back then, the Saudis were stalemated in Yemen and Sudan’s economy was wobbly. Now the situation is actually worse: Salman’s military is losing and Bashir’s economy is collapsing.”
But the UAE and Saudis weren’t the only ones to make a deal with the devil—so too did the United States. “There’s not a person at the CIA station in Khartoum who doesn’t know that Bashir and his inner circle are world class kleptocrats,” the former intelligence officer with whom I spoke said. “But you know, this is all about terrorism and Iran. So when the Saudis made a pact with Bashir, we looked the other way.” Yemen expert Michael Horton is even more outspoken: “It’s not a case of we should know better,” he says. “It’s that we know better and do nothing.” …
The knock-on effects are profound: The UAE’s willingness to turn a blind eye to Sudanese conflict gold (especially from its lucrative mines in Darfur), has given the Bashir regime a desperately needed economic lifeline, in exchange the Emirates and Saudis have deepened their investments in Sudan and, most recently, been allowed to send recruiting officers to search for new Sudanese recruits free of Khartoum’s oversight. Additionally, the UAE/Saudi intervention in Yemen included deploying Sudanese mercenaries to fight terrorist groups in Yemen’s gold-rich Hadramout region, where the major mining concessions had been held by Qatar — until, that is, the UAE and Saudi Arabia clamped their embargo on Doha. Put simply, the Yemen war has empowered the Bashir regime and its Darfur militias while, at the same time, both the UAE and Saudis are using their fight in Yemen to lay claim to Qatar’s gold.
The final effect is even more worrisome. As a result of UAE and Saudi complicity in the illegal “blood gold” trade, the Bashir government has been sending its militias to quiet rebellions in gold rich provinces—opening new gold fields that have not yet been mined. “It’s kind of under-the-radar,” Michael Horton notes, “but Sudan’s fighting in Yemen has actually spurred fighting in Africa.”