Are Russian Mercenaries in Sudan?

Are Russian Mercenaries in Sudan?

The government in Khartoum denied Western allegations that Wagner Group fighters were “carrying out training, mining, and other illegal activities” in the East African nation.

The war of words began when, shortly before Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, high-level Sudanese officials visited Moscow. In response, several Western nations, including the United States, warned Sudan not to get involved with the shadowy Wagner Group. According to a letter published in a Sudan newspaper, the mercenary group “spreads disinformation on social media and engages in illicit activities connected to gold mining.” In response to that response, Sudan accused these diplomats of “arbitrarily” dragging the country into the Russo-Ukrainian War.

M Invest, and a subsidiary company, are active in Sudan. Some Westerners claim M Invest is a financial front for the Wagner Group.

Sudan: A Closer Look

Although Sudan’s history dates back to the time of the Egyptian pharaohs, the country is still looking for an identity. A mostly-Christian Sudan, the Kingdom of Kush, ruled Egypt for about a hundred years. Kush’s successors lasted until around 1500, when Arab nomads began moving into Sudan. 

Eventually, Egypt conquered Sudan. In the early 1880s, a Sudanese revolt weakened Egypt, allowing the British to conquer Egypt-Sudan during the Scramble for Africa. 

After Sudan became independent in 1956, a series of military strongmen ruled the country. One of them, Colonel Omar al-Bashir, held the reins of power from 1989 to 2019. But for the most part, these military juntas only last a few months, or perhaps a few years, at a time. The ethnic, sectional, religious, and other conflicts which date back to the Kush era simply create too much instability. Mercenaries like the Wagner Group thrive on such instability.

What Contractors Do in Africa

Except for the “illegal activities” part, the Sudanese government’s assessment of contractor responsibilities in Africa is pretty much spot-on.

Training is one of the most important private military contractor duties in Africa and elsewhere. The goal of any military excursion is to make things right and leave as quickly as possible. Training government security forces supports that objective.

Contractors are well-positioned to train new recruits and veteran soldiers alike. Contractors have experience in anti-insurgency warfare, which is what most government forces in Africa are up against. Additionally, many contractors are former law enforcement officers. These individuals know how to provide deterrence without firing a shot and how to develop relationships and gather intelligence.

Military academies do not teach these skills. So, it is not only necessary to retrain government security forces. Contractors must also change their mindset from seek and destroy to serve and protect.

On a related note, many private military contractors are foreign nationals. When these individuals train soldiers, they not only overcome the language barrier. They also break through the cultural barrier.

Mining is an important activity in mineral-rich Central African countries. Sudan has one of the largest oil reserves in the world. For political reasons, many nations do not buy Sudanese oil. But petroleum is still the cornerstone of a rather successful economy. Sudan also has significant deposits of feldspar, gypsum, iron, gold, kaolin, marble, salt, manganese, and silver.

Usually, contractors do the mining, or at least some of it,  and provide worksite security. Large mining, reconstruction, and other projects usually start with high-level stateside panners. Contractors supervise the work, to help ensure the project is completed on time and under budget. Local residents do much of the work. This setup adds some money to the local economy. Perhaps more importantly, it gives the community a stake in the outcome. That helps with security matters.

Site security is a lot more important in places like Sudan than in places like South Carolina. Thieves and vandals are the biggest threats in South Carolina. A high fence, a few cameras, and perhaps a guard or two effectively deters such activities. But in Sudan, armed gangs and sabotage are a big problem. Frequently, there are more armed than unarmed contractors at foreign construction sites.

Especially in places like Sudan, overall security is important, as well. Under U.S. law, contractors cannot engage in offensive operations against militants and rebels. But contractors can escort convoys, man checkpoints, and serve in other such capacities. This service frees military resources for other operations.

Compensation for Injured Contractors

Contractor responsibilities are not just important. They are also dangerous. Trauma injuries, like falls, and occupational diseases, like toxic exposure illnesses, are common. These cases are also often complex, from a Defense Base Act standpoint. When private military contractors are injured overseas, the DBA replaces lost wages and pays medical bills.

Trauma injuries sometimes happen when the contractor is on duty at a military facility or on an assignment. However, they are more likely to happen off hours and off site. For example, a contractor might be shopping in a market when a bomb goes off.

DBA insurance companies often contest these claims, arguing that they are not related to the deployment. However, the Supreme Court recently held that victims need only establish a nexus (indirect connection) between their deployments and their injuries. A nexus exists in the above example. The contractor’s deployment was the only reason the contractor was in the market at that time.

Occupational disease claims have some complexities all their own. Conditions like repetitive stress injuries and hearing loss often have more than one cause. Many of these victims have co-existing or pre-existing conditions which increase the risk of illness and/or the severity of illness.

Normally, full compensation is available in these situations. Attorneys must simply prove that the work injury aggravated the pre-existing condition, as opposed to the other way around. Admittedly, that’s a very fine line. So, attorneys often work with top physicians who offer their expert opinions.

For more information about DBA benefits, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A.