US President Joe Biden has announced the evacuation of all US government personnel from war torn Sudan.
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.
“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.”
Blinken said the “widespread fightingposed 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 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,” Bass 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,” John 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.”
While steps were taken to evacuate government workers, 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,” Bass said Saturday.
However, a senior Pentagon official 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.
Para-military group, RSF said in a statement posted Sunday morning, April 23 in 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.”