The latest travel restrictions imposed by the Trump administration adds Chad, North Korea, and Venezuela to the former list of countries (Iran, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, and Syria) but dropped Sudan. Why add Chad? Who the hell knows? The addition of North Korea and Venezuela seems, as is the case with Iran, to be out of spite at the refusal of those countries to bend to US coercion. Adding North Korea and Venezuela to the list also deflects criticisms that the administration is targeting Muslim-majority countries.
Chad has protested its inclusion, saying that it is leading the fight against Boko Haram. But it is the removal of Sudan, a nation that remains on the US list of nations that are ‘state sponsors of terrorism’, that has surprised observers. But Ryan Grim and Alex Emmons explain that Sudan got itself removed by agreeing to serve as pretty much a mercenary force in the US-Saudi joint assault on Yemen.
Indeed, Sudan has precious little lobbying capacity. But it has a friend in the right place: The United Arab Emirates recently began lobbying on Sudan’s behalf in Washington, putting its considerable capital to work. The diplomatic favor comes as Sudan has stepped up its on-the-ground involvement in the war in Yemen, giving the Saudi- and UAE-led coalition the kinds of boots on the ground those nations are uninterested in risking themselves, preferring to wage an aerial campaign instead.
“Sudan is doing the UAE’s dirty work,” explained one well-placed U.S. government source not authorized to speak publicly about the situation. In exchange, UAE ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba has put his substantial diplomatic weight behind the Sudanese government. Otaiba is particularly close with White House adviser Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law. Kushner plays a leading role in setting Mideast policy for the administration.
To date, Sudan has provided more than 1,000 troops and promised to commit even more. “There are 6,000 fighters from special forces, ground forces, and elite troops ready to participate when requested by the leadership of the coalition,” Ahmed Awad Ibn Auf, Sudan’s defense minister, said in May. “Even if more troops and military contributions are needed, we are ready for any developments.” The Sudanese fighting force became even more important after Qatar withdrew its soldiers from the coalition in June.
That Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, the Saudi-backed leader of Yemen, must rely on foreign government troops to wage the ground war is an indication of his lack of popular support. After Arab Spring protests unseated Ali Abdullah Saleh, the longtime leader of Yemen, in 2011, Hadi was installed by international actors as part of a power-sharing deal. He was later elected president in a 2012 election in which only his name appeared on the ballot.
For the past decade, Sudan has repeatedly been named as one of the world’s worst human rights violators, giving it a strong incentive to ally with countries close to the United States, in order to blunt such criticism.
What is happening to Yemen is another example of US-allied nations helping prop up an unpopular leader using massive military firepower supplied by the US that inflicts immense death and damage on an already highly impoverished population.