US senior military official to visit Sudan

US senior military official to visit Sudan

Two-day visit by Africom’s Andrew Young is a first since removal of Khartoum from the US terror list

The Pentagon building is seen in Arlington, Virginia, US, October 9, 2020. REUTERS

(Thenationalnews)–The deputy commander of the US Africa Command, Andrew Young, will arrive in Sudan on Tuesday on a two-day visit .

Sudan has gone through a leadership transition and full revamp in its relations with Washington.

A Pentagon official confirmed to The National that Mr Young, deputy to the commander for civil-military engagement at Africom, will be meeting high-level officials in Khartoum on Tuesday and Wednesday. Sudan News Agency was the first to report on the visit.

Mr Young’s trip has been in the works for months.

It will be the first visit by a US senior military official since Sudan was removed last month from the state sponsors of terrorism list after 27 years.

He is expected to meet Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan, Sudan’s head of state, and the country’s prime minister Abdalla Hamdok.

The visit is expected to focus on boosting Sudan’s security and defence capabilities and counterterrorism co-operation between the two countries.

Cameron Hudson, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and former chief of staff for the US special envoy to Sudan, saw the significance of the visit in its potential to establish grounds for a relationship between Africom and Khartoum.

Sudan signs Abraham Accord, normalising relations with Israel

“Any interaction between Africom and Sudan is significant given the lack of any real relationship since Africom’s founding more than a decade ago,” Mr Hudson told The National.

Prior to Omar Al Bashir’s removal from power in April 2019, Sudan’s relations with the US were marred by hostility and sanctions. In 1993, the US added Sudan to the state sponsors of terrorism list, then imposed a trade embargo and crippling sanctions to punish Khartoum for its ties to extremist organisations and Iran as well as for its role in the genocide in Darfur.

Following Mr Al Bashir’s downfall, the Trump administration took major strides towards normalising relations, granting Khartoum partial immunity from Congress after a payout of $335 million for US victims of Al Qaeda attacks that the Bashir regime supported. Sudan also normalised relations with Israel last year, adding impetus to its improved bilateral ties with Washington.

This visit is about testing the relationship and paving the way for deepening ties. “Other options under consideration include having a US naval vessel visit Sudan or having Gen Al Burhan visit Africom headquarters in Stuttgart,” Mr Hudson explained.

In December, Sudan signed a port agreement with Russia. Mr Hudson argued that the “US should be both embarrassed and anxious to establish its own strategic linkages to Sudan” following Russia’s naval expansion.

The visit, albeit planned before Mr Biden took office last week, is a test for the new US administration, said Alberto Fernandez, the vice president of Memri (Middle East Media Research Institute) and a former chargé d’affaires of the US embassy in Khartoum.

“It is a good development in principle, [to see] engagement with the Sudanese government and military on the ground early on in the new American administration, thus showing a willingness to connect on the sensitive Sudanese civilian-military file,” Mr Fernandez told The National.

“But it is so early that it may have been in the works even before Mr Biden was inaugurated and the new administration just gave it a green light,” he added.

The larger question, the former US official argued, is how the Biden administration will deal with Sudan. “There is a very fragile opportunity, a real chance to get things right with a successful Sudanese transition process over the next two years. But the situation can also go very wrong if it doesn’t receive the right attention [from Washington],” he said.

During the Obama-Biden administration, the US pursued a quiet engagement with Sudan. More recently, senior Biden officials such as secretary of state nominee Tony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan have pledged to work on improving relations following the Abraham Accord.

US ties with Sudan were mentioned in a call between Mr Sullivan and Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat last week. “They discussed opportunities to enhance the partnership over the coming months, including by building on the success of Israel’s normalisation arrangements with UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco,” the White House said.