The U.S. government evacuated its diplomats from the Sudanese capital on Sunday but left behind hundreds of Americans who have spent the past two days scrambling to find ways to flee the city.
In social media and text messages sent from Khartoum, Americans shared stories with NatSec Daily about narrowly escaping gun fighting and coming close to getting stuck between exchanges of rocket-propelled grenades as they tried to find safe passage to the airport and port. The current violence has led to more than 400 people dead and thousands wounded.
In the early hours after fighting began in Sudan, several American citizens, all of whom requested to remain anonymous to protect their safety because they were still en route home, said they contacted the U.S. government for assistance.
One of the Americans said they called and emailed the State Department last week, only to be told that the U.S. government would not be assisting with the evacuation of its citizens. (“This is not Lebanon in 2006,” a senior administration official told NatSec Daily.) Another American citizen who was living in Sudan for work said they eventually found a way out of the country after getting on a French convoy.
Asked about whether the Biden administration coordinated with European countries to help evacuate American citizens from Khartoum, a second senior U.S. official said: “We’ve remained in touch with American citizens and have offered best practices … on security measures and precautions to take on the ground.” The official did not specify whether the administration had specifically asked the French to help with evacuations.
Another senior Biden official in the United Kingdom said the U.S. has worked closely with its allies to coordinate some of the evacuations of Americans and Europeans. The official said the U.S. also helped the U.K. military coordinate the departure of its embassy staff.
National security adviser JAKE SULLIVAN said Monday that the U.S. had begun to facilitate the land evacuation of private citizens from Sudan, including by placing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets over the route to ensure safe travel between Khartoum and the Port of Sudan.
The U.S. also has a Navy ship off the Port of Sudan, per the first senior administration official, and the administration is “making plans” to provide additional naval assets in the Red Sea to ferry people to safety, provide medical support or other contingency assistance.
But for the last two days, Americans have largely had to fend for themselves, according to the Americans in Khartoum who spoke to NatSec Daily.
Leaving his apartment building, one of the American citizens said he and a group of 20 people left to meet the French military convoy in the middle of the night.
“It was pure dark, no lights on the street. We go out, we take our go bags and there are buildings riddled with bullets. Windows are blown out. Buildings were caught on fire,” the American said, adding that the group stopped by the French embassy. “They were burning everything.”
The French military then led the group out of the city to an undisclosed location — an air strip two hours outside of the city. The caravan included 25 armored vehicles.
“This is the second time the caravan went. The first time they got shot at. So we weren’t told where we were going,” the American said. At the airstrip, hundreds of people stood in line to get onto French and other European military aircraft — most of which were headed for Djibouti.
ANOTHER BROKEN TRUCE: Sudan’s warring generals pledged Tuesday to abide by a new three-day truce brokered by the United States and Saudi Arabia, but, like the attempted ceasefires before, that didn’t last very long.
Soon after, heavy gunfire and explosions were heard in the capital of Khartoum, and residents spotted warplanes flying overhead, the Associated Press’ SAMY MAGDY reports. There’s been little respite as fighting between the Sudanese army and the Rapid Support Forces paramilitary group enters its second week.
Secretary of State ANTONY BLINKEN announced the new truce late Monday, an extension of the nominal three-day holiday ceasefire that was agreed to “following intense negotiation over the past 48 hours.”
If the warring generals can’t commit to any real ceasefire, Sen. CHRIS COONS(D-Del.) said, the U.S. should consider placing new sanctions on the country.
“I think sanctions are appropriate … in the near term, because frankly they’re squandering their chance at peace,” he said on CNN Tuesday morning. Last year, the Treasury Department sanctioned security forces in Sudan for human rights abuses.
MICK MULROY, a former Pentagon official and retired CIA officer, also supports the use of sanctions if the conflict isn’t quelled. As both sides are being supported by separate countries, “this has the possibility to become a long-term civil war that is devastating to the country and damaging to the region,” he told NatSec Daily.