Northrop F-5E/F Tiger II in Service with Sudan

Last revised June 12, 2019

In January of 1889, an Anglo-Egyptian agreement established a condominium (or joint authority) to be exercised by both nations over the territory south of Egypt below the 22nd parallel. This territory was formally known as the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, but British colonial officials played the dominant role in governing the territory. The other borders of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan were somewhat ill-defined, with Ethiopia to the east, Chad to the west, and the Congo to the south.

Sudan became an independent state in 1956, and a parliamentary government was established at the capitol in Khartoum. Sudan, officially known as the Republic of the Sudan, is currently bordered by Egypt to the north, the Red Sea to the northeast, Eritrea to the east, Ethiopia to the southeast, South Sudan to the south, the Central African Republic to the southwest, Chad to the west, and Libya to the northwest.

What followed in the next few years was a series of unstable civilian governments interspersed by military coups. The First Sudanese Civil War (also known as the Anyana Rebellion or Anyanya I, after the name of the rebels) was a conflict from 1955 to 1972 between the northern part of Sudan and the southern Sudan, when the southern Sudan demanded better representation and more regional autonomy. The war was largely based on religion, between the largely Muslim Arab north and the largely black Christian and animist south. Half a million people died over the 17 years of this war.

A military government seized control in Sudan in 1958, but civilian control returned in 1964 after a series of strikes and disturbances. In May of 1969, a group of military officers led by Colonel Jaafar an Nimeiri seized control of the government. The coup was justified on the grounds that the civilian government had not been able to deal effectively with the country's economic and regional problems, particularly not being able to overcome the tensions and conflicts Immediately, the coup leaders proclaimed a "democratic republic" dedicated to the advancement of socialism, the nationalization of industries, the abolition of all government institutions, and the banning of political parties.

An agreement ended the First Sudanese Civil War's fighting in 1972, but it failed to completely dispel or resolve the tensions between the north and the south that had originally caused it.

Nimeiri was elected president in 1972, and he initially relied on the Soviet Union, Libya, and China for aid and support. At that time, the Silakh al Jawwiya as Sudaniya (Sudanese Air Force) was equipped mainly with Soviet and Chinese aircraft such as the MiG-17, the MiG-21, and the J-5 and J-6. However, a failed coup attempt in 1976 allegedly backed by Libya and local Communists led Nimeiri to consider turning to the West for military aid. Sudan attempted to purchase Mirage III fighters and Puma helicopters, from France but the deal fell through. Relations between Washington and the Sudan had been strained because of the murder of a couple of American diplomats by terrorists in Khartoum in 1973, but they began to improve when Nimeiri showed signs of tilting to the West. The USA at first rebuffed the Sudanese requests for arms, but after a pro-Soviet coup in neighboring Ethiopia, in 1978 it relented and offered 10 F-5Es and two F-5F. The deal was to be financed by funds provided by Saudi Arabia.

The Sudanese Air Force received two F-5Fs in 1982, with ten F-5Es following in 1984. The F-5 aircraft were operated from Khartoum. Sudan had wanted to acquire more F-5s, but these fell through when the necessary funding could not be arranged. One of the Sudanese F-5Fs was sold to Jordan, but the Sudanese complement of F-5s was increased unexpectedly when a pair of Ethiopian F-5s defected during the Ogaden crisis.

Ever since the advent of Sudanese independence in the 1950s, there had been tension and conflict between the largely Islamic Arab north and the largely black animist and Christian south. In 1983, General Nimieri abrogated a regional autonomy pact which had at least temporarily eased the conflict and he imposed fundamentalist Islamic law on all of the Sudan. Full-scale civil war immediately broke out between government forces, strongly backed by the National Islamic Front, and the southern rebels, whose major faction was headed by the Sudanese People's Liberation Army. This came to be known as the Second Sudanese Civil War. Neither side has been able to gain the upper hand in the conflict, and it is estimated that two million people (mainly civilians) have died as a result of the civil war. The role of the Sudanese F-5s in this war is uncertain, but it is probably unlikely that the F-5s were able to participate very much in this conflict because of low serviceability caused by the unavailabiilty of spare parts.

In April of 1985, in the wake of rising tensions with Libya, protests against food price increases, and resistance in the south to the imposition of Islamic law, Nimeiri was overthrown by a military coup, and he fled to Egypt. One of the reasons for the coup is that the Nimeri government had attempted to begin negotiations with the south. A new coalition government headed by Sadiq al Mahdi was established in an election held the following year.

However, Mahdi's government was itself overthrown in June of 1989 by a group headed by Colonel Umar Hassan Ahmad al Bashir. A state of emergency was imposed and Sudan was ruled by a 15-member Revolutionary Command Council for National Salvation. The constitution of 1985 was suspended, the press was muzzled, and all political parties and trade unions were banned. The new government was strongly backed by the National Islamic Front, an organization of Muslim clerics, and the new government inposed strict dress and behavior codes on women. Religious indoctrination was imposed in the schools, and the paramilitary Popular Defense Force was established to enforce Arabization and Islamization along narrow sectarian lines.

At that time, Washington terminated all economic assistance to Sudan in accordance with a law which disallowed any American aid to a country whose democratically-elected government was overthrown by the military. Khartoum's support for Iraq during the Persian Gulf War further strained Sudanese-American relations, and in February 1991 the United States withdrew its diplomatic personnel and closed its embassy in Khartoum.

In the meantime, relations between Sudan and the United States had gone from bad to worseUnder the Bashir government, Sudan had become a safe haven for several terrorists, and becane virtually a pariah among Western nations. In 1993, the Clinton administration added Sudan to a list of state sponsors of terrorism, and applied unilateral sanctions. Bashir's government was linked to a June 1995 failed assassination attempt against Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in Ethiopia. It is believed that Osama bin Laden had been given free rein to operate his terrorist ring inside Sudan, and suspicion of Sudanese involvement in the African embassy bombings of August 7, 1998 led to a Tomahawk cruise missile attack on August 20 against a pharmaceutical plant believed to have been used by bin Laden for the manufacture of chemical weapons. It has also been alleged that slavery is still being practiced in Sudan, with Arab raiders from the north kidnapping and selling thousands of southern blacks.

In February 2003, the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) groups in Darfur took up arms, accusing the Sudanese government of oppressing non-Arab Sudanese in favor of Sudanese Arabs, precipitating a major armed conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan. The conflict has since been described as a genocide, and the International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued two arrest warrants for al-Bashir. Arabic-speaking nomads militias known as the Janjaweed have been accused of many atrocities

On 9 January 2005, the Nairobi Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed between the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the government, with the objective of ending the Second Sudanese Civil War. A United Nations mission was established to support the implementation of the peace agreement. The peace agreement led to the 2011 referendum which resulted in the secession of South Sudan. The region of Abyei is to hold its own referendum in the future.

The Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) was the primary member of the Eastern Front, a coalition of rebel groups operating in eastern Sudan. A peace agreement between the Sudanese government and the Eastern Front was signed on 14 October 2006, in Asmara.

On 5 May 2006, the Darfur Peace Agreement was signed, aiming at ending the three-year-long conflict. The Chad–Sudan Conflict (2005–2007) erupted, which led to the declaration of war by Chad. The leaders of Sudan and Chad signed an agreement in Saudi Arabia on 3 May 2007 to stop fighting from the Darfur along their countries' 1,000-kilometre (600 mi) border.

Since 2009, a series of ongoing conflicts between rival nomadic tribes in Sudan and South Sudan have resulted in a large number of casualties. These started as a dispute over the oil-rich region of Abyei, though it is also related to the nominally resolved war in Darfur.

In 2011, there was a referendum which led to Southern Sudan becoming an independent nation, the Republic of South Sudan. Since 2011, Sudan has been the scene of ongoing military conflict in its regions South Kordofan and Blue Nile. The Sudanese conflict in South Kordofan and Blue Nile in the early 2010s between the Army of Sudan and the Sudan Revolutionary Front started as a dispute over the oil-rich region of Abyei in the months leading up to South Sudanese independence in 2011, though it is also related to civil war in Darfur that is nominally resolved. The events would later be known as the Sudanese Intifada, which would end only in 2013 after al-Bashir promised he would not seek re-election in 2015. He later broke his promise and sought re-election in 2015, winning through a boycott from the opposition who believed that the elections would not be free and fair. Voter turnout was at a low 46%. On 13 January 2017 US president Barack Obama signed an Executive Order that lifted many sanctions placed against Sudan and assets of its government held abroad. On 6 October 2017, the following US president Donald Trump lifted most of the remaining sanctions against the country and its petroleum, export-import, and property industries.

On 19 December 2018, massive protests began after a government decision to triple the price of goods at a time when the country was suffering an acute shortage of foreign currency and inflation rate of 70 percent. In addition, President al-Bashir, who had been in power for more than 30 years, refused to step down, resulting in the convergence of opposition groups to form a united coalition. The government retaliated by arresting more than 800 opposition figures and protesters, leading to the death of approximately 40 people according to the Human Rights Watch, although the number was much higher than that according to local and civilian reports. The protests have continued since the overthrow of his government on 11 April 2019, when President al-Bashir was arrested and a three-month state of emergency was enacted. Over 100 people died in early June in clashes between pro-democracy protesters and state security forces, resulting in Sudan's suspension from the African Union.


  1. Northrop F-5/F-20, Jerry Scutts, Ian Allan Ltd, 1986.

  2. F-5: Warplane for the World, Robbie Shaw, Motorbooks, 1990

  3. Northrop F-5, Jon Lake and Robert Hewson, World Airpower Journal, Vol 25, 1996.

  4. Library of Congress Country Study--Sudan

  5. Sudan, Wikipedia,

  6. Flight International, World Air Forces,

  7. E-mail from Vahe Demirjian on independence of southern Sudan and Sudan no longer operating F-5s.