Apr 22, 2023 - World

Biden: U.S. diplomatic staff and their families evacuated from Sudan

This image grab taken from AFPTV video footage on April 20 shows an aerial view of black smoke rising above the Khartoum International Airport amid ongoing battles between the forces of two rival generals. Photo: AFP/RSF via Getty Images

The U.S. military has evacuated U.S. Embassy personnel and their families from Sudan, President Biden announced late Saturday, as the fighting in the capital Khartoum and other cities across the country entered its second week.

The big picture: Despite several attempts at a temporary cease-fire over the last few days, fighting between the Sudanese military, led by Gen. Abdul Fattah al-Burhan, and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), headed by Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo — known as Hemedti — has continued largely unabated.

Details: Saturday's evacuation came on Biden's order. "Under 100 people" were airlifted out of the country, Under Secretary of State for Management John Bass told reporters in a briefing.

  • More than 100 troops with the U.S. special operations forces were part of the operation, said Lt. Gen. D.A. Sims, the director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
  • "The operation was fast and clean, with service members spending less than an hour on the ground in Khartoum," Sims told reporters.

State of play: Bass said that because of the security situation and the fact that Khartoum's international airport is inoperable and has been damaged in the fighting, the Biden administration doesn't "foresee coordinating a U.S. government evacuation for our fellow citizens in Sudan at this time, or in the coming days."

  • The U.S. Embassy on Saturday issued a security alert, advising U.S. citizens to shelter in place. It added that due "to the uncertain security situation in Khartoum and closure of the airport, it is not currently safe to undertake a U.S. government-coordinated evacuation of private U.S. citizens."

What they're saying: "I am proud of the extraordinary commitment of our Embassy staff, who performed their duties with courage and professionalism and embodied America’s friendship and connection with the people of Sudan," Biden said in a statement.

  • Biden thanked the military, as well as Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Saudi Arabia, which he said were "critical to the success of our operation." Saturday's operation came after the U.S. moved troops to Djoubti to prepare for a possible evacuation of diplomatic staff and their families. During the operation, the U.S. special forces refueled in Ethiopia. It was unclear what role Saudi Arabia may have played.
  • Biden, who called the fighting in Sudan "unconscionable," also said the U.S. was "working closely with our allies and partners" to help assist the thousands of Americans still in Sudan, "to the extent possible."

Secretary of State Tony Blinken said in a separate statement that he directed the embassy to suspend operations "due to the serious and growing security risks created by the conflict between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces."

  • The fighting "posed an unacceptable risk to our Embassy personnel," he added.

Between the lines: The Sudanese military said in a statement early Saturday, that al-Burhan had “agreed to provide the necessary assistance” to facilitate the evacuations of foreign nationals from several countries, including the U.S., U.K., France and China.

  • The RSF said in a tweet early Sunday that it "coordinated with the U.S Forces Mission consisting of 6 aircraft, for evacuating diplomats and their families on Sunday morning." The tweet added it had "supervised all the necessary arrangements that preceded the evacuation process."
  • But U.S. officials pushed back, saying the RSF did not help coordinate the evacuation. "They cooperated to the extent that they did not fire on our service members in the course of the operation," Bass said. The operation "was conducted by the Department of Defense and only by the Department of Defense."

Catch up quick: The recent fighting erupted more than a week ago as growing tensions between al-Burhan and Hemedti boiled over.

  • The pair led a military coup in October 2021, derailing the transition to democracy that began after the ouster of long-time ruler Omar al-Bashir in a popular uprising four years ago.
  • But disagreements between the two generals began to rapidly escalate, particularly after the military, RSF and a coalition of civilian parties last December signed a preliminary political deal in which the military agreed to hand over power.
  • Hundreds have been killed and thousands have been injured in the recent fighting. Some parts of the country are suffering a humanitarian crisis that the UN has called in recent days "catastrophic."

Go deeper: Sudan's rival generals "hold country hostage" as battle of egos turns deadly

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details throughout.

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