Washington — On Saturday, President Joe Biden announced that US federal workers had been evacuated from Sudan.
“Today, on my orders, the United States military conducted an extraction operation to extract US government personnel from Khartoum,” Biden said in a statement.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a separate statement saying that all US diplomats and their families had been evacuated and that operations at the US Embassy in Khartoum had been “temporarily suspended.”
The extraction required the participation of more than 100 special operations soldiers. According to US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, the operation was led by US Africa Command and carried out in close consultation with the State Department.
The decision to remove the American personnel follows a week of violent violence between opposing military factions – the Sudanese Armed Forces, or SAF, and the Rapid Support Forces, or RSF – that has killed hundreds and injured thousands.
‘The only truly viable option’
The “widespread fighting… posed an unacceptable risk to our Embassy personnel,” according to Blinken, who added 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 stated on Saturday that temporarily closing the embassy was “the only feasible option for us in this case.”
“As a result of the intensity of the conflict, the challenges that our diplomatic personnel was 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 during a briefing call.
The US Embassy was evacuated with less than 100 individuals, including “a small number of diplomatic professionals from other countries,” according to John Bass.
“We do not have any US government personnel remaining in Khartoum at this time,” Bass said, adding that “a substantial number of our local staff are still supporting the embassy in a caretaker status.”
The evacuation was “anything but haphazard,” according to Lt. Gen. D.A. Sims, the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s head of operations.
During the evacuation, US special operations personnel were on the ground in Sudan for less than an hour, he added. At 9 a.m. EST, troops took off from Djibouti, stopping in Ethiopia to refuel before continuing to Khartoum.
“The evacuation was completed in a single movement using a rotary wing.” “The operation was quick and clean, with service members on the ground in Khartoum for less than an hour,” Sims added. “As we speak, the evacuees are safe and secure.”
The US does not intend to “coordinate a US government evacuation for our fellow citizens”
While efforts have been taken to evacuate government employees, the US administration does not “foresee coordinating a US government evacuation for our fellow citizens in Sudan at this time or in the coming days,” according to Bass on Saturday.
A senior Pentagon official, however, stated 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 more viable,” said Chris Maier, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict, during a conference call with reporters.
To monitor routes and identify dangers, Maier stated that the Department of Defense “is currently considering action that may include use of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities.”
He continued, “Third, the establishment at the US Africa Command in Stuttgart of a deconfliction cell focused particularly on the overland route, and second, the employment of naval assets outside the port of Sudan to potentially help Americans who arrive at the port.”
Biden stated that he was “receiving regular reports from my team on their ongoing work to assist Americans in Sudan, to the extent possible.” According to Blinken, the US administration “will continue to assist Americans in Sudan in planning for their safety and provide regular updates to US citizens in the area.”
On Friday, State Department principal deputy spokeswoman Vedant Patel said the department has spoken with “several hundred American citizens who we understand to be in Sudan” about “security precautions and other measures that they can take on their own.”
The State Department does not keep official tallies of American citizens abroad, and Americans are not obligated to register when they travel abroad. Officials warned staffers on Wednesday that there could be 16,000 American citizens in Sudan, the vast majority of whom are dual nationals.
Following the evacuation and suspension of activities at the embassy, the State Department amended its travel advice for Sudan, stating that due to the present security situation, “the US government cannot provide routine or emergency consular services to US citizens in Sudan.” Its travel warning remains Level 4: Do Not Travel.
Demands for an end to violence
US officials emphasized that they will continue to strive to end the violence, which Biden called “unconscionable,” and to extend the ceasefire that both parties agreed to for the Eid al-Fitr festival. Fighting has continued despite professed vows to a ceasefire.
“We remind both belligerents of their obligations under international humanitarian law, including obligations related to the protection of civilians,” stated Blinken.
Molly Phee, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, told reporters on 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 credited international allies, particularly Ethiopia, for their contributions to the success of the US evacuation.
“Late last night, Secretary Blinken met 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.
During the mission, the aircraft involved in the evacuation refueled in Ethiopia, which borders Sudan.
Biden commended Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Saudi Arabia in his statement, saying they “were critical to the success of our operation.”
The SAF announced earlier Saturday that its leader, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, had “agreed to provide the necessary assistance” to ensure the safe evacuation of foreign citizens from the country in response to “calls from several heads of state.”
The RSF announced in a statement issued at midnight Khartoum time that they had organized the evacuation with the US. According to Bass, the Undersecretary for Management, “that was not the case.”
“They cooperated to the point where they didn’t fire on our service members during the operation,” he claimed. “I would argue that it is in their self-interest as much as anything else.”