President Joe Biden on Saturday ordered the evacuation of U.S. embassy staff in Khartoum, Sudan, amid worsening fighting between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces, a rival paramilitary force.
“Today, on my orders, the United States military conducted an operation to extract U.S. Government personnel from Khartoum in response to the situation in Sudan,” Biden tweeted. “I am grateful for the commitment of our Embassy staff and the skill of our service members who brought them to safety.”
Today, on my orders, the United States military conducted an operation to extract U.S. Government personnel from Khartoum in response to the situation in Sudan.
I am grateful for the commitment of our Embassy staff and the skill of our service members who brought them to safety.
— President Biden (@POTUS) April 23, 2023
He said in a written statement, “I am receiving regular reports from my team on their ongoing work to assist Americans in Sudan, to the extent possible. We are also working closely with our allies and partners in this effort.”
Senior U.S. officials said on a background call with reporters late Saturday that due to the intensity of the fighting and concern over the availability of key supplies like fuel and food, they reluctantly decided to temporarily suspend embassy operations and evacuate the embassy in Khartoum, with the assistance of U.S. military forces.
“Given that uncertain environment, the absence of any commercial air, the absence of any charter aircraft capabilities, and the absence of really feasible overland road routes to get out of the country, we concluded the only way we could do this safely for all of our diplomatic personnel was to rely on the capabilities of our military colleagues,” Under Secretary for Management Ambassador John Bass told reporters. Bass was on the ground in Afghanistan at the time of the withdrawal.
Fewer than 100 personnel were evacuated from the embassy, he said.
Bass acknowledged there are still Americans left in Sudan and that U.S. government would not be evacuating them.
“As a result of that uncertain security picture, as a result of the unavailability of the civilian airport, we don’t foresee coordinating a U.S. Government evacuation for our fellow citizens in Sudan at this time or in the coming days,” he said.
“Although we don’t foresee coordinating that evacuation, we certainly continue to be in close touch with many American citizens resident in Khartoum and elsewhere in Sudan to give them our best assessment of the security environment and to encourage them to take appropriate precautions to the best of their ability in and around that environment,” he said.
It is not yet clear if American citizens in Sudan have asked to be evacuated, and officials did not clarify.
Bass said the U.S. government would continue to look for ways to help trapped Americans “from a distance.”
“At the direction of Secretary Blinken we also continued to develop ways to reach our American citizens and other organizations with whom we work closely to ensure we had the best range of tools available to try to help make sure we could get information to them quickly, to make sure that they could make the best-informed decisions about their personal safety in the moment, depending on where they might find themselves in Khartoum or in other parts of the country,” he said, adding:
We understand a number of our citizens, a number of other countries’ citizens, have made their way overland from Khartoum to Port Sudan on the Red Sea. That appears to be a quite challenging journey given the lack of predictably available fuel, water, food, other essentials. And so we’re not recommending anyone undertake that route.
We’re not advising anyone to undertake that route necessarily. But we understand if people are going to do that, and we’re going to continue to look for ways to try to help them do that from a distance to the best of our ability.
Bass said contrary to assertions on social media, the Rapid Security Forces did not aid in the evacuation and just refrained from firing on U.S. troops during the evacuation. “I would submit that’s as much in their self-interest as anything else,” he said.
A senior U.S. military official gave brief details of the evacuation operation, telling reporters that on Saturday morning around 9 a.m., a contingent of U.S. forces flew from Djibouti and landed in Ethiopia, where they refueled before flying to Khartoum. He said the evacuation was conducted with three MH-47 Chinooks.
“The operation was fast and clean, with service members spending less than an hour on the ground in Khartoum. As we speak, the evacuees are safe and secure,” said Lt. Gen. D.A. Sims, the U.S. military’s Joint Staff Director for Operations.
Sims said just over a hundred U.S. special operations forces were involved in the mission.
A senior defense official told reporters that the Department of Defense would continue to work with the State Department to assist Americans who may want to leave.
“One of those ways is to potentially make the overland route out of Sudan potentially more viable. So DOD is at present considering actions that may include: use of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities to be able to observe routes and detect threats; secondly, the employment of naval assets outside the Port of Sudan to potentially help Americans who arrive at the port; and third, the establishment at the U.S. Africa Command in Stuttgart of a deconfliction cell focused particularly on the overland route,” Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict Chris Maier said.
Bass said the U.S. is only aware of the death of one American private citizen who has been killed in crossfire in the fighting.
Reuters reported Sunday “thousands” of foreigners, which include embassy staff, aid workers, and students, have been unable to get out of Sudan.
Some foreign nationals are evacuating from Port Sudan on the Red Sea, about 400 miles from Khartoum.
Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Ambassador Molly Phee said the U.S. is pressing the warring factions to observe ceasefires. The Sudanese Armed Forces is being led by Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, while the Rapid Support Forces is headed by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti.
After a 2021 coup, Burhan and Hemedti had held the top positions on a ruling council meant to hand over to civilian rule and merge the RSF into the army, according to Reuters.
So far, according to the World Health Organization on Friday, at least 413 people have been killed and 3,551 injured since the fighting broke out, including at least five aid workers.
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