State Department experts recommended adding Saudi Arabia, a major US ally and arms customer, to the soon-to-be released list on the basis of news reports and human rights groups’ assessments that the ultra-conservative kingdom has hired child fighters from Sudan to fight in Yemen, according to four sources familiar with the matter.
The sources added that the experts' recommendation faced resistance from some other State Department officials, who argued that it was not clear whether Sudanese forces in Yemen were under the control of Sudanese officers or directed by the Saudi-led coalition, Press TV reported.
The New York Times daily newspaper, citing Sudanese fighters, reported on December 28 last year that Saudi and United Arab Emirates commanders directed the North African mercenaries at a safe distance from the fighting against Houthi Ansarullah fighters.
The Arabic-language Sout al-Hamish daily newspaper, citing an unnamed informed source, reported on May 18 that 600 Sudanese fighters had been flown a month earlier from Nyala Airport in southwestern Sudan to Yemen.
The source added that the Sudanese fighters had received training for only four months at the Dumaya camp in Nyala, the paratrooper training camp in the capital Khartoum as well as the al-Jili camp north of Khartoum before being sent to battle fronts in Yemen.
Even though Sudan's long-time President Omar al-Bashir was toppled in April after months of public protests, the military council that runs the country follows suit and continues to dispatch soldiers to fight at the front line of war in Yemen.
Almost all the Sudanese fighters appear to come from the battle-scarred and impoverished region of Darfur, where some 300,000 people were apparently killed and 1.2 million displaced during a dozen years of conflict over diminishing arable land and other scarce resources.
Most of the militia belong to paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, a tribal militia previously known as the Janjaweed.
There are reports that Sudanese fighters are sent to battles in the Midi Desert of the northwestern Yemeni province of Hajjah, the Khalid bin Walid camp in Ta’izz, or around Aden and Hudaydah.
All of those interviewed by foreign media outlets confirm that they have fought in Yemen only for money, as they were paid in Saudi riyals. Payments to the mercenaries are said to be deposited directly into the Faisal Islamic Bank of Sudan, which is partly owned by Saudis.
Saudi Arabia and a number of its regional allies launched a devastating campaign against Yemen in March 2015, with the goal of bringing the government of former president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi back to power and crushing the Houthi Ansarullah movement.
The US-based Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), a nonprofit conflict-research organization, estimates that the Saudi-led war has claimed the lives of over 60,000 Yemenis since January 2016.
The war has also taken a heavy toll on the country’s infrastructure, destroying hospitals, schools, and factories. The UN says over 24 million Yemenis are in dire need of humanitarian aid, including 10 million suffering from extreme levels of hunger.