US has evacuated American diplomatic personnel from Sudan
WashingtonCNN — President Joe Biden on Saturday said that US government personnel had been evacuated from Sudan.
“Today, on my orders, the United States military conducted an operation to extract US government personnel from Khartoum,” Biden said in a statement.
In a separate statement, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that all US personnel and their families had been evacuated and that operations at the US Embassy in Khartoum have been “temporarily suspended.”
A group of just over 100 special operations forces were involved in the extraction. The operation was led by US Africa Command and conducted in close coordination with the State Department, said Lloyd Austin, the US secretary of defense.
The decision to evacuate the American personnel comes after a week of heavy fighting between rival military factions – the Sudanese Armed Forces, or SAF, and the Rapid Support Forces, or RSF – which has left hundreds dead and thousands wounded.
‘Only really feasible option’
Blinken said the “widespread fighting … posed an unacceptable risk to our Embassy personnel,” noting that “suspending operations at one of our embassies is always a difficult decision, but the safety of our personnel is my first responsibility.”
Undersecretary of State for Management John Bass said Saturday that temporarily closing the embassy was “the only really feasible option for us in this case.”
“As a result of the intensity of the conflict, and the challenges that our diplomatic personnel were experiencing in conducting basic operations and the uncertainty about the availability of key supplies like fuel and food going forward, we reluctantly decided it was time to suspend operations,” he told reporters on a briefing call.
Fewer than 100 people were evacuated from the US Embassy, including “a small number of diplomatic professionals from other countries,” Bass said.
“We do not have any US government personnel remaining in Khartoum at this time,” Bass said, but there are still “a substantial number of our local staff supporting the embassy in a caretaker status.”
The planning for the evacuation was “anything but haphazard,” said Lt. Gen. D.A. Sims, the director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
US special operations forces spent less than an hour on the ground in Sudan during the evacuation, he said. Troops took off from Djibouti at 9 a.m. EST, landing in Ethiopia to refuel before heading to Khartoum.
“The evacuation was conducted in one movement via rotary wing. The operation was fast and clean with service members spending less than an hour on the ground in Khartoum,” Sims said. “As we speak, the evacuees are safe and secure.”
US does not ‘foresee coordinating a US government evacuation for our fellow citizens’
A State Department spokesperson confirmed Sunday that the department has “notified the US citizen community via consular channels about the organization of two convoys facilitated by Türkiye and the United Arab Emirates.”
The message told Americans that they would be traveling at their own risk.
The message sent to US citizens in Sudan comes as a top State Department official had said Saturday that the US government does not “foresee coordinating a US government evacuation for our fellow citizens in Sudan at this time or in the coming days.”
A senior Pentagon official had said that “in the coming days, we will continue to work with the State Department to help American citizens who may want to leave Sudan.”
“One of those ways is to potentially make the overland routes out of Sudan potentially more viable,” Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict Chris Maier said on a call with reporters.
Maier said that the Department of Defense “is at present considering action 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 US Africa Command in Stuttgart deconfliction cell focused particularly on the overland route,” he said.
Biden said that he was “receiving regular reports from my team on their ongoing work to assist Americans in Sudan, to the extent possible.” Blinken said the US government “will continue to assist Americans in Sudan in planning for their own safety and provide regular updates to US citizens in the area.”
On Friday, State Department principal deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said it had been in touch with “several hundred American citizens who we understand to be in Sudan” to discuss “security precautions and other measures that they can take on their own.”
The State Department does not keep official counts of US citizens in foreign countries and Americans are not required to register when they go abroad. Officials told staffers Wednesday that there could be an estimated 16,000 American citizens in Sudan, most of whom are dual nationals.
Following the evacuation and the suspension of operations at the embassy, the State Department updated its travel advisory for Sudan, saying that due to the current security situation, “The US government cannot provide routine or emergency consular services to US citizens in Sudan.” Its travel advisory remains at Level 4: Do Not Travel.
Calls for end to violence
US officials stressed that they would continue their efforts to bring an end to the violence, which Biden called “unconscionable,” and work to extend the ceasefire that both sides agreed to for the Eid al-Fitr holiday. Despite the professed commitments to that ceasefire, fighting has continued.
“We remind both belligerents of their obligations under international humanitarian law, including obligations related to the protection of civilians,” Blinken said.
Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly Phee told reporters Saturday that the US is “in close contact with Sudan’s military and civilian leaders to see if we can help them identify a path to extend and expand the Eid al-Fitr ceasefire to reach a sustainable cessation of hostilities.”
Phee praised the efforts of international partners, particularly Ethiopia, for their roles in the success of the US evacuation.
“Late last night, Secretary Blinken consulted with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who offered Ethiopia’s full support for the overflight and refueling capabilities that were critical to the operation’s success,” she said.
The aircraft used in the evacuation refueled in Ethiopia, which borders Sudan, during the mission.
In his statement, Biden thanked Djibouti, Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia, saying they “were critical to the success of our operation.”
The SAF said in a statement earlier Saturday that its leader, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, had “agreed to provide the necessary assistance” to facilitate the safe evacuation of foreign citizens from the country in response to “calls from a number of heads of states.”
The RSF said in a statement posted overnight Khartoum time that they had coordinated with the US on the evacuation. Bass, the undersecretary for management, said “that was not the case.”
“They cooperated to the extent that they did not fire on our service members in the course of the operation,” he said. “I would submit that’s as much in their self-interest as anything else.”
This story has been updated with additional reporting.