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The Whole Story with Anderson Cooper
"Going Home: The War In Sudan". Aired 9-10p ET
Aired November 19, 2023 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: We are so happy, the team and I, so grateful that we have been able to put together this documentary and that CNN is giving it the time that it is because our hope, as a team, but really my hope, as someone whose country this is, is that people will watch and understand and perhaps think about those who are caught in the crossfire to this day and try and figure out what is it that the world could be doing better this time, Paula.
PAULA REID, CNN HOST: Incredible reporting. Nima Elbagir, thank you.
"Going Home: The War in Sudan" is next. Good night.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to THE WHOLE STORY. I'm Anderson Cooper.
While war has raged in Ukraine for more than a year and conflict has once again broken out in the Middle East, there is another often overlooked battle happening right now in Sudan. In April, a paramilitary group called the Rapid Support Forces, or RSF, began fighting the Sudanese army for control of the country.
Now, so far, thousands of people have been killed, and more than 5 million have been displaced, according to the U.N. That means, on average, roughly, 30,000 people are fleeing their homes every day.
Among those lucky enough to make it out have been the family of CNN's chief international investigative correspondent Nima Elbagir. She's not been back to her home country in more than a year after RSF-linked authorities issued a sealed indictment against her because of her reporting on them.
So what is motivating the RSF? And how are they able to sustain such a large and drawn-out conflict?
Very few Western news organizations have been allowed into Sudan since the war began, but Nima and her team made it back inside. And over the next hour, she takes us on a deeply personal journey, as she sees for herself what this power struggle has done to her country.
Some of what you're about to see in this hour may be disturbing.
ELBAGIR: Getting very, very close.
(voice-over): For the entirety of my career as a journalist, I've covered war.
CNN. We're CNN.
And the pain and devastation it inflicts.
You just really get hit by the desolation, the devastation.
But this war, this pain, it's personal.
I've been covering Sudan for over 20 years, first as a young reporter at the very start of my career, then as an experienced journalist, witnessing a popular revolution overthrow the country's longstanding dictator, seeing people I love taste democracy only to watch as military leaders wrenched back control and mourning their loss alongside them.
Now, some of those very same military leaders are fighting each other for the ultimate prize -- to rule Sudan alone, unchallenged.
Sudan is where I was born, but it's also where my family were forced to leave only a few weeks ago. Most are trying to flee, but we need to get in. We need to see for ourselves what's been happening.
You can't just fly to the capital anymore. We need to be creative. The fighting is focused on two areas, the capital Khartoum, and the west of the country in El Geneina, Darfur. The only way in for us is to travel to south Sudan, starting in the small village of Renk, which has been hosting refugees.
From here, we need to cross the border and try to get to Khartoum, but again, nothing is straightforward.
Much of the capital is occupied by the paramilitary group, the Rapid Support Forces, better known as the RSF. They don't want me or any Western journalists to document their atrocities.
So we'll have to take an 800-mile journey northeast to Port Sudan, where we've been promised a flight to the capital. But Khartoum tells us only part of the story, of the tragedy unfolding in Sudan.
Troubling stories from El Geneina, in Sudan's western Darfur region are trickling out.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (translated): They said you are Masalit, we must you're your fathers and brothers then rape you.
ELBAGIR: Stories of systematic rape, ethnic cleansing, and now even slavery.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (translated): They would measure your muscles and say this one is good for us. ELBAGIR: Shedding light on this tragedy for the world to see is what's
pushing me to go back. But it's also my home and where many of my extended family still live. I haven't seen them in a long time. I want to see how they're doing, if they're all right, and how the people of Sudan are coping in the face of this terrible civil war.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our neighbor was shot.
ELBAGIR: It's hard, though. We're here just two months into the fighting, and the world has already turned its back on those impacted.
Our journey begins in Renk, where many of the 2.8 million people who have fled the war in Sudan crossed over. Desperate, tired, and hungry, many end up here, a holding camp run by aid agencies near Sudan's border with South Sudan.
There are around 15,000 people in the camp on any given day, and no one here knows how long they'll have to stay. Aid agencies say they're trying to help, but there's not enough food, not enough clean water, and not enough medicine.
What you see behind me here is one of only two meal distributions a day. This is the first time anybody in this camp has gotten to eat this morning, and it's already around 11:00. It's chaotic. It's painful to watch because the reality is that most of those people back there are not going to get to eat. They're going to cue with their empty bowls and plates, and they may not be able to take anything back to their families.
Every single day, a child dies here in this camp. And it's because of these conditions, absolutely awful.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Most of these people, they have been here for at least two months.
ELBAGIR: Kwer Dahok (ph) has been at the camp for a month now, and he stepped up as a community leader for the people here. Back home in Khartoum, he was a high school headmaster, teaching English literature.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our people are suffering mostly from diarrhea. They are dying every day with diarrhea. They are dying every day and night, mostly children. We have never spent a day without losing a child here.
ELBAGIR: And yet life goes on. It must. People are having to figure out how to survive and look after their families without knowing what their futures hold.
There's one family over there where the mother gave birth just five days ago here in the conditions that you can see around us. So we're going to go over there and check in on her.
They want me to hold him.
(SPEAKING NON-ENGLISH) This is David Adud (ph). His mother, Bakhita (ph), says that she named him. That was her choice. It's a name she loves. And his middle name is after his grandfather.
He's going to be a tall child.
Bakhita wanted to show us this. This is all she has to feed David from because she can't produce her own milk. She's not been able to breastfeed. It's been 10 days now. So she's really, really worried about the baby because this is what little formula they were able to find for them here. It's gone.
While Bakhita fights for her newborn, another young mother grieves the loss of her only son.
A simple grave, it's all they can do now to bring some dignity in these harsh conditions. The family can barely speak. There are no words to describe the pain of the loss of a child.
The only visible markings that this is a cemetery, a few rudimentary wooden posts and the freshly disturbed piles of earth that cover this desolate field, so far from loved ones' homes.
We need to go into Sudan and see for ourselves how the country is being affected by the conflict. We've been hearing horror stories of war crimes in the capital. The city has been devastated.
Some of my family have stayed behind. I'm desperate to see them and, with a bit of luck, to go in and see my family home, which has been taken over by the RSF, a paramilitary army gone rogue. It's time we cross the border into war-torn Sudan.
ELBAGIR: We are heading north on a long and perilous journey into Sudan. Very few Western media organizations have been allowed in since the war broke out between the Sudanese army and the RSF, killing untold thousands and displacing millions.
We're trying to get to the capital, Khartoum, one of two major areas where the fighting is concentrated. Khartoum is also where my family home is, but it's too dangerous to drive there directly, so we're having to travel northeast to circumnavigate the RSF and get to Medani, the closest city with a Sudan army presence.
We've been warned to stay on the main roads to avoid any checkpoints controlled by the RSF. They don't want us in Sudan.
I've got history with them, especially with their leader.
This is Commander Mohammed Hamdan.
Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, a former warlord better known as Hemedti, now commander of the RSF.
Fifteen years ago, as a young journalist, I filmed with Hemedti and his men when he was identified by eyewitnesses as a leader of the infamous Arab militia group, called by their victims Janjaweed, "devils on horseback".
The Janjaweed became notorious for terrorizing non-Arab tribes and committing such heinous acts towards them. Then, in 2007, the United States declared the killing spree a genocide.
This war wasn't just about territory. It was also about ethnicity. And Hemedti's story doesn't end there.
That well-worn playbook that Hemedti and the Janjaweed learned back then, terrorizing, raping, and killing, is now being used again in the same region, Darfur. Only this time, the Janjaweed are an official fighting force, the RSF, who are currently in a battle against the Sudanese army for dominance.
Today, as you can see from this aerial view, the displacement, the killing, the murder of those from non-Arab tribal groupings, is worse than it has ever been.
Towns and villages raised to the ground, disintegrated, disappeared from the map.
If Hemedti wins, there is a chance Sudan may never know peace in my lifetime. And I, like so many others, may never see home again.
But for now, we've managed to cross the border.
It's taken us about three, four hours just to get three, four kilometers up the road and to cross from the Republic of South Sudan into the Republic of Sudan. But we have done it, and we're across the border.
And honestly, I can't quite believe it. It feels -- it feels pretty amazing to be home. We were asked to swap vehicles from the pickup trucks we were in to what's supposed to be a little bit of a more low profile car with blacked out windows. However, it's low profile, but they're blaring Sudanese pop music. You can hear it in the background.
Spirits are high, and everyone's feeling good. We can hardly believe it. We've made it into Sudan. But the music quickly gets tiresome, and a trip that should have been a maximum of seven hours is now going on and on.
The longer we stay on the road, the more vulnerable we are to bandits. And as the sun sets, our situation becomes more precarious. To make matters worse, comms are intermittent so it's difficult to pinpoint our position. I wouldn't say we're lost, but --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know we're headed north, so we're going in the right direction. Whether or not this is the road that we need to be on is another point. I'm going to try and have a look at the map, actually.
ELBAGIR: We've just been held at almost every single checkpoint, despite all the assurances we were given. It's now 10:00 at night, and we're still hour and a half before our destination.
Every moment that we are delayed, it gets more and more dangerous.
And delayed again and again and again.
It's past 11:00 at night, and our producer, Barbara, is trying to find the team a place to stay. Our hotel reservation was canceled.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're four people, so even -- yeah, even if it's like one room and we all sleep on the floor, it doesn't matter at this stage.
ELBAGIR: Luckily, we managed to get in touch with a distant cousin of my father's, who allows us to bed down in her new, not yet furnished home. The team is exhausted. We need to get some sleep.
This is Wad Madani, the closest city to Khartoum. Its population has swelled by thousands since the war began.
Madani has always been a major city. In fact, it was the cradle of Sudan's independence movement from the British. Now it's being called upon once more. And this time, it is to provide safe haven for the Sudanese fleeing the country's capital.
Dust, pollution, heat, just utter chaos. For now, the markets are full, but prices have skyrocketed as people live with the constant threat of an RSF invasion. In the market, we meet Iman (ph) from Khartoum. She arrived in Medani only a few days ago. The violence she tells us is indiscriminate.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our neighbor was shot. So my parents say to us, we have to come from Madani because it's not safe here anymore. So that brought me here. I actually didn't want to come here, but life is life. Everyone is suffering from this war, and it's been terrible.
ELBAGIR: Some of the onlookers begin telling the young people to not speak to us, to not sell out their country to foreigners.
We actually had to walk Iman and her friend Soufian (ph) a little bit away from that crowd that was starting to gather. And it was really clear that there is a tension. There's a tension between those in Madani who've seen their standard of life get more expensive, who are now suddenly having to push their way through traffic like this almost every day, and the people who are coming from Khartoum.
It's not that people don't want to host people. It's just that they're feeling those consequences in their lives. Every Sudanese is feeling the effects of this conflict in some shape
Back at the house where we're staying, I meet someone I love dearly.
My uncle, Baba Aarif (ph). I haven't seen him for about a year since a sealed indictment was issued against me by RSF-linked authorities in retaliation for a previous investigation.
I'm going to ask you the question everybody wants to know, are you going to leave?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Leave where?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why? Why should I leave?
ELBAGIR: Are you going to let us evacuate you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why should I leave?
ELBAGIR: Because it's dangerous.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If war happens and I happen to be in any part of the world, as a physician or as a surgeon, I can do some help. If people needs it, I'm not going to leave. Why should I leave?
I have 50 years of experience in surgery. I leave them? Come on. This cannot be. Why the whole world is thinking like that?
I was brought up like this. Think about the others. Whatever you can do to help them, do it. And this war is going to end. And everybody is worried. Sudan is going to, again, again.
ELBAGIR: It's going to rise?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rise. This is going to happen. We Africans can do that. And I'm sure.
ELBAGIR: So what do you need? What do you need from the world?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The world?
ELBAGIR: Yeah, what do you need? You're saying you're risking your life --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: First of all, they have to make all the efforts possible to stop the war.
ELBAGIR: I'm so proud of you. We're worried, but we're proud of you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, it's OK.
ELBAGIR: I understand why he's doing this, but the idea that I'm going to leave him behind is incredibly hard. Still, I am so proud of what he represents -- the risks that so many Sudanese are taking to save each other and their country.
Baba Aarif wants to show us a hospital nearby where some of the medics he's trained are currently working under extreme conditions. There is very little medicine. Even oxygen is running low.
The doctors say often they have so little. The only thing they can do is try and give people comfort. But there's not much comfort to be found.
Outside, we see an inconsolable family. Her father has just died of an asthma attack. War doesn't just kill people quickly at the front line. It slowly strangles the rest of the country.
We need to get back on the road to see what's happening elsewhere. But before we go, my family has invited us for a get-together. Not everyone here is from Madani. Most of my family has been displaced. In fact, it's the first time that a lot of us have met one another. But everyone is so familiar.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (translated): You have the same bone structure as my grandmother.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (translated): I can see the resemblance.
ELBAGIR: She's saying that I look like my aunt, who passed away. She was very beautiful. She had the tribal markings, the same as (INAUDIBLE).
Yeah, we're trying to compare her with my dad.
I'm getting a family history lesson.
And of course, it doesn't take long for everyone to start teasing each other.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (translated): Poor Arwa, she's suffered through being related to me. She was woken up at 2:00 a.m. to give us a bed for the night. Good. She sleeps too much.
ELBAGIR: Even through the love and laughter, the war is constantly present and very much at the forefront of everyone's minds.
They have actually just come from Khartoum. Their house was occupied by the RSF. And he was working at one of the leading industrialist companies in Khartoum. And they've had to come all the way out to Madani and all stay here with his wife's mother's family because Khartoum has just been overrun.
As the night draws to a close, I feel so blessed. Everyone has stories of people they've lost in the fighting, but they still find a moment to laugh, to enjoy each other, and to be grateful that they are together for another night.
It's a reminder of what's at stake here. Khartoum may be where my family is suffering, but we're hearing a new front in the fighting has opened up -- an ethnic cleansing campaign unleashed in Darfur is intensifying.
The RSF creating a stronghold, a fortress, which could expand into the heart of Africa. How is this paramilitary group sustaining this fight on multiple fronts? Who is behind this?
We need answers. It's time to continue our journey to the capital, whatever the risks.
ELBAGIR: It's early morning, and we're back on the road. We wanted to follow the river Nile north straight into Khartoum, the fastest route in, but it's far too dangerous. The RSF controls a lot of the suburbs going into the city.
Sudan's armed forces is offering a flight into Khartoum from Port Sudan, but it's a 600-mile drive away. We have to get there as fast as we can because of the volatility of the conflict. There are small windows of opportunity. If we miss it, we can't get in. But there are already delays.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've still got 550k up to port Sudan, six hours' driving time.
ELBAGIR: Big distance.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah.
ELBAGIR: We were hoping to be further along, huh?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, I mean, we're going to be driving in dark hours, but it is what it is. We've committed to it now, so we'll go with it. We probably shouldn't hang around here too long. Feedback from the local security is that there may be a bit of lawlessness, banditry, that kind of stuff. And we would be considered vulnerable.
ELBAGIR: Opportunistic insecurity.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Exactly.
ELBAGIR: It's a massive journey. Sudan is the third largest country in Africa. The closer we get to Port Sudan, where the regular army has more control, the more delays are created by their security.
Port Sudan has become the de facto capital of Sudan, so there's a strong military presence. As we travel into the night, we get news of an RSF sleeper cell being discovered in the city. They've locked it down, and we can't get in.
We've been forced to stop for the night. We'll have to bed down in the open.
ELBAGIR: It's around 2:00 am, and we're being put out by the Sudanese army in a guest house about two hours from Port Sudan. We're going to spend the night here and try and see what we can do in the morning.
Overnight, there was a sandstorm, and it's gotten everywhere.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: James, what time is it?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ten to 6:00. Dust time.
ELBAGIR: We are making calls to see if the security situation has improved in the city so we can get moving. We got the all clear, but we've been diverted through this rugged road. You can see why.
With its high vantage point and slow going, it's an easily defendable route into the city. The checkpoints are becoming more frequent. The security perimeter around the city is tight.
But finally, we've arrived in Port Sudan.
The historic city of Port Sudan, built to increase trade in the early 1900s, some of the same traditional methods are still being used. Today, they're unloading sacks of sugar. It's always been a key geographical entry point for the region.
ELBAGIR: It's not until you're actually down here on the shoreline that you get a real sense of why port Sudan matters so much. The goods that they're unloading make their way to the Central African Republic, to Chad, to South Sudan, to Niger, to Mali, all the way extending into Africa. Countries are reliant on Port Sudan.
It's an incredibly strategic port for the rest of the world, sitting on the Red Sea and thereby potentially able to control access to the Suez Canal, where any obstruction brings global shipping to its knees.
Three years ago, Russian naval warships were docked exactly where we are now, part of a push by Russia and its proxy militia Wagner to extend its influence in the region.
Russia has long aspired to a naval base at port Sudan, a demand Sudan's army has in recent years denied. But the commander of the RSF, Hemedti, has said he would grant, giving Russia an ominous vantage point overlooking the Suez.
But there's more to it than that. Sudan has gold, and Russia has been able to exploit it. As we discovered last year in a CNN investigation, their ally Hemedti, commander of the RSF, has been helping Russia to circumnavigate us sanctions, including those around the war in Ukraine.
The quid pro quo, Hemedti has been receiving arms and training from Wagner for years.
But today, somehow, all of that seems far away. It's also a vibrant city where, in the evening, people find moments to enjoy a breeze from the sea, tea and sweets, a day before Eid celebrations. People come here to relax, meet family and friends, and unexpectedly, I meet a budding young journalist.
UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: How is it like being a reporter?
ELGABIR: What's it like being reporter? It's a bit difficult sometimes, but it's amazing because you get to go to places a lot of people don't get to go, and you get to see things for yourself.
UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: Did you go to Paris?
ELBAGIR: I have been to Paris.
UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: I want to go!
ELBAGIR: In the early morning calm, you would be forgiven for believing that there is no war raging, but only a few months ago, this area was the scene of mass evacuations. Foreigners and dual nationals were evacuated by sea, crossing to the port city of Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.
Others, however, Sudanese were left behind, forgotten.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (translated): We're living here without services. Who's going to help us? Where is the UN?
ELBAGIR: Aida (ph) needs life saving treatment. She fled from Khartoum and has been living in the mosque.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (translated): Who is going to help me pay for my surgery? Who's going to help me get access to life's most basic necessities?
ELBAGIR: The war has infected every bit of society. No one has been left unscathed. I've come to check on a close family friend, Hatim, and his 80-year-old mother. They've recently fled from Khartoum and barely escaped with their lives.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I woke up actually with a machine gun pointed to my head. And then they brought my mom. They also had a gun to her head.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (translated): They took me to Hatim's room and they showed me Hatim with his arms up. They had a gun to his head. So I started telling them this is my son and I don't have anyone else. If you kill him, you might as well kill me too, shooting up the room, smashing it up. He did that to scare you? Yes. I made sure not to make nay movements, because if I did they would kill Hatim.
ELBAGIR: The RSAF has been unleashed, but don't forget they haven't been in this alone. While we've been in Port Sudan, these pictures emerged, the RSF's key foreign backers, Wagner, mutinying against Russia's military leadership. Could this turn the tide in Sudan?
For the moment, there has been little respite in the daily reports of atrocities. We can no longer get to Khartoum. The Sudanese army say it's just too dangerous. And now we're hearing that violations are near constant in the west of the country, Darfur, where the RSF are believed to be expanding their territorial chokehold.
Communication networks there have been blocked by the RSF, and it's impossible to get in. The RSF are locking down key towns and cities, but the stories that are getting out are so horrific.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): It was like a trade. They said to us, these girls are to be sold. You are all slaves.
ELGABIR: Slavery in 2023 -- this is what's happening now in Darfur. We need to head out to meet with survivors and eyewitnesses.
ELBAGIR: We're heading to the very east of Chad on the border with Sudan. This is a remote and difficult to reach territory. We're on a U.N. humanitarian aid flight to meet refugees from Darfur, survivors and eyewitnesses of terrible atrocities.
I was here almost 20 years ago, reporting on similar stories of ethnic cleansing. Now I've come back to piece together what's been happening since the war broke out a few months ago, to find out who is perpetrating these atrocities.
These refugees fled their homes with very little, some with only the clothes on their back. They are at the mercy of the state and the international community for help.
These only queues that you're seeing here, they don't actually reflect the true reality, which is that people here have not received food for almost two months. And after today, they don't actually know when they're going to receive food again. This is the human cost of the fighting across the border.
Look around. Most people here are women, children, and the elderly.
Survivors tell us many men were killed in Darfur as they fled. Everyone is reliving their trauma.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): We have nothing here, and the Arabs wouldn't let us stay. They beat us into the night. They killed our husbands. We couldn't stay at home.
Our children, all they can do is cry. They cry through the day. They cry through the night.
ELBAGIR: Communication in Darfur has been deliberately choked by the RSF. It's been excruciatingly hard to understand exactly what's been going on until now.
One by one, survivors come forward wanting to share, to document what has happened to them.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I held my five-year-old brother and ran with him to the mosque. The RSF chased us, shooting at us. A bullet hit my brother's head.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): From within our family, we lost more than 40 men.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): They said to my father, we're going to rape your daughter in front of you. The RSF said leave these ones. We will find better ones to sell. These ones, let's rape them.
ELGABIR: Textbook ethnic cleansing, these are the hallmarks of genocide. We interviewed over a dozen survivors and eyewitnesses, who witnessed the abduction of at least 200 other girls. But how many more girls and women have been abducted and enslaved?
Through their testimony, we were able to pinpoint key neighborhoods in El Geneina, where civilians were targeted and where women were being sold from slave houses. Places like Al Jebel, al-Halila (ph), and al- Sahardomitri (ph) where survivors say they counted 75 girls abducted in one fell swoop.
There is nowhere safe in El Geneina, not even medical centers, where women and girls were taken to be raped.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): We were at home when the Janjaweed came. When they found out we were all women, they took us to the medical complex. There were RSF soldiers outside, and they beat me until they forced me into the building. Inside, I saw 9 or 10 girls, some without clothes.
ELBAGIR: What were they telling you?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): They told us they will sell us very cheaply. They said, we kill all the men. We will not leave any Black skin here. You have to leave. Get out.
They said they will be the only ones to sleep with us, because if we have our own children, our sons will one day take revenge.
ELBAGIR: Asharakat (ph) managed to escape, but was recaptured and brought to a different location, where she was repeatedly raped.
In late June, the state governor of West Darfur, seen here, was kidnapped by the RSF. He was later found executed and his body mutilated.
The weeks that followed saw killing sprees by the RSF and their Arab allied militia that many believe amount to one of the worst massacres seen in this region's genocide scarred history. Survivor after survivor told CNN how the RSF spoke of wiping out the African descended Masalit, who, unlike Hemedti's tribe, claim no Arab heritage.
It's this land in Darfur that the RSF are currently occupying, which the Masalit claim as their ancestral land, part of a fertile land mass that the commander of the RSF Hemedti has been strategically looking to secure for the last 20 years, changing the demographics from African to Arab.
The purpose, creating through alliances and Arab fortress extending through the African Sahel Region for not only his tribe, but for all the nomadic Arab tribes, whose tribal land extends across borders.
What does that future territory look like? Those who escaped into Chad tell us it requires the annihilation of the Masalit, with a domino effect for other African tribes native to this land, those young enough to survive enslaved.
Mahadi (ph) who's only 16, gives us a glimpse into what's happening in West Darfur. He was kidnapped by the RSF with his brother and forced to work at a farm.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (translated): We were 8 people. We were all tied up. They would come and say, I want the strong boys. Someone came over and started to feel my arms. I was tied up and blindfolded.
ELBAGIR: You can't see them but you can feel them?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (translated): I couldn't see a thing. I could just feel him hitting me here. I'll buy him off you. I'll give you money.
ELBAGIR: The word "slave" in Arabic is a racial slur equivalent to the N-word, so we are bleeping it out in his testimony.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (translated): They said this is a (AUDIO DELETED).
ELBAGIR: They called you (AUDIO DELETED).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (translated): Yes. They beat me and said, where did you get this (AUDIO DELETED)? They kept hitting me.
ELBAGIR: Mahadi doesn't know how much they bought him for, but he was eventually taken to another location, where he was forced to work. His brother, taken at the same time, was killed by the RSF.
Many of those we spoke to are old enough to have been forced to flee to Chad during the previous genocide. To live through that once is a tragedy. Twice in one lifetime is almost more than any human can bear.
But who's to blame? Wagner's commander, Yevgeny Prigozhin, is dead. The RSF are trapped behind Sudan's borders. So who is sustaining and supporting them in this fight?
ELBAGIR: After days in the east of Chad hearing stories of enslavement and an attempt to ethnically cleanse the Masalit, we've come to the Chadian capital N'djamena. We've gotten word that high-level military whistleblowers and politicians want to talk to us. They say they have critical information and evidence about who, beyond Russia's Wagner, is supplying arms to the RSF, information to help us understand how it all adds up.
Most ended up too afraid to come on camera, but Yaya Dillou Djerou, leader of an opposition party in Chad, wants to speak out. He believes the Chadian president is allowing his country to be used by the Emiratis to supply arms to the RSF.
YAYA DILLOU DJEROU, LEADER OF THE PARTI SOCIALISTE SANS FRONTIERES, CHAD: We have a lot of witnesses to the delivery of weapons. But when people try to denounce this one, they change their strategy, saying that they are delivering medical services.
ELBAGIR: Do you have evidence? Could you share that with us?
DJEROU: Yes, of course, I have all types of pictures. These are the weapons.
ELBAGIR: Djerou says that these pictures were given to him by whistleblowers working at the airport. He says they show arms flown in from the UAE. But the Emiratis say that their operations are humanitarian in nature and that their field hospitals, seen here in this video, is helping the local population and refugees -- even though the vast majority of refugees are hundreds of miles away in the south, where we found no direct Emirati presence.
The Emiratis are a key us ally and integral to the ongoing peace negotiations between the two warring parties in Sudan. If they're delivering supplies to the RSF, that role becomes disingenuous at best, duplicitous at worst.
CNN has uncovered that in the last four months after the civil war began in Sudan, as many as 109 flights left two UAE airports and traveled to Chad to Amdjarass, a highly unusual route. You can see those flights in video and stills provided by whistleblowers. Eyewitnesses at Amdjarass told CNN that after the arrival of many of these flights, they saw vehicles loaded with weaponry crossing over to Al-Zurug in Sudan, where there is an RSF base.
And it's not just the Emiratis using Chad. It's also Wagner expanding its network and reach. Prigozhin may be dead, but Wagner's supplies and the support to the RSF continues still.
We uncovered evidence that Wagner trucks laden with arms from a Russian plane crossed through Chad en route to the same RSF military base in Al-Zurug, where you can clearly see here over 100 trucks newly arrived at the base. Both Russia and the Emirates have a history of supporting the RSF, more specifically, their commander Hemedti, through a series of financially beneficial arrangements, including the illegal sale of Sudan's gold for arms.
If Hemedti does win the war, at the very least, both Russia and the Emirates would have strategic access to the Red Sea, access to Sudan's gold and mineral wealth, and increased political sway.
But at what cost?
We still don't know how many people have lost lives, how many have lost loved ones. And as the war rages on, it's impossible to count.
We do know millions have been forced from their homes, not knowing if and when they will get to go home. They are paying the true cost for this fight for power and influence.
I am among the lucky ones. We were able to evacuate my parents to Cairo, as well as my beloved uncle, who ran out of heart medicine.
But so many others remain trapped in this geopolitical power game, playing out still six months on, while the world chooses to look the other way.
COOPER: Since Nima was last in Sudan to report on this story, the RSF has now seized control of cities in Western Darfur, which has only intensified the ongoing battle.
Thanks for watching THE WHOLE STORY. I'll see you next Sunday.