Evacuees from the US Embassy in Sudan arrive at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, on April 23, 2023. Image Credit: Reuters

WASHINGTON: Warring factions trying to seize control of the east African nation of Sudan have plunged the country into chaos, and thousands are fleeing the capital of Khartoum and nearby battle zones.

Some countries, including the US, have shuttered their embassies and many are coordinating daring evacuations of their staffs and other residents in an array of convoys, flights and frantic getaway drives.

But over the past week there have been dramatically different responses by various governments as they try to get their citizens and embassy personnel to safety.

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The US has come under scrutiny for evacuating roughly 70 embassy staff in a helicopter mission by elite SEAL commandos over the weekend, while warning thousands of private American citizens in Sudan there would be no similar evacuation for them.

The State Department, which has advised US citizens for years not to travel to Sudan, continues to advise Americans to shelter in place.

Most of the estimated 16,000 Americans believed to be in Sudan right now are dual US-Sudanese nationals and only a fraction of them have expressed a desire to leave.

But at least some of those who want to leave have managed to get to Port Sudan where they can take a ferry to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, or have gotten seats on flights operated by other countries.

A look at the situation:


It all boils down to a struggle for power between two powerful generals and their armies: Gen. Abdul Fattah Burhan, who leads the Sudanese armed forces, and Gen. Mohammad Hamdan Dagalo, the head of a paramilitary group known as the Rapid Support Forces.

Four years ago, a popular uprising in Sudan helped depose long-time leader Omar Al Bashir. But in 2021, the two generals — Burhan and Dagalo — jointly orchestrated a coup that derailed efforts to develop a civilian government.

Under international pressure, Burhan and Dagalo recently agreed to a framework agreement with political parties and pro-democracy groups. But the signing was repeatedly delayed as tensions rose over the integration of the RSF into the armed forces and the future chain of command. Tensions exploded into violence on April 15.

Each side has tens of thousands of troops in and around Khartoum and the city of Omdurman on the opposite bank of the Nile River.


As security conditions worsened late last week, including damage to the civilian airport and an attack on a US diplomatic convoy in Khartoum, the State Department concluded that “the only way we could do this safely for all of our diplomatic personnel was to rely on the capabilities of our military colleagues,” said Ambassador John Bass, State Department undersecretary for management.

On Saturday, the US Embassy in Khartoum suspended its operations and ordered staff to leave the country.

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This handout picture taken on April 26, 2023 and released on April 27, 2023 by the Indonesian Armed Forces shows soldiers assisting Indonesian nationals as they board an Indonesian Air Force Boeing 737 before being evacuated from Port Sudan to the Saudi city of Jeddah. Image Credit: AFP

The Department of Defence had begun moving resources to Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti to prepare for a possible evacuation. On Saturday, three MH-47 Chinook helicopters carrying elite SEAL commandos took off from Djibouti enroute to Ethiopia, where they refuelled and then made the three-hour flight to Khartoum.

“The operation was fast and clean, with service members spending less than an hour on the ground in Khartoum,” said Lt. Gen D.A. Sims, director of operations at the Joint Staff. The helicopters flew in and out of Khartoum without taking any fire.


While embassy staff was airlifted out, there were no plans to provide similar evacuations for potentially thousands of Americans still in Sudan.

In a security alert on Tuesday, the State Department reiterated that “due to the uncertain security situation in Khartoum and closure of the airport, it is not currently safe to undertake a US government-coordinated evacuation of private US citizens.”

Instead, it provided details on border crossings that are available and the requirements needed at each location. It cautioned that fighting continues and that many routes are dangerous and unpredictable.

American citizens who get to Port Sudan overland and can take a ferry to Jeddah will be assisted by the US consulate there. Right now, the US assistance for Americans is largely limited to phone and virtual help.

The US could send Navy vessels to Port Sudan to ferry Americans to Jeddah or another location where they could get transportation back to the United States. However, officials say this would depend on the security situation and whether it is safe for ships to dock. The US has developed other options, such as opening a temporary consulate in Port Sudan, beefing up its consulate in Jeddah to assist Americans as they arrive, or using a nearby airfield that other European countries have used to fly citizens out.

US officials believe the security situation in Port Sudan is better than in the capital, but remain concerned about the potential for an escalation of violence.

Tunisian citizens evacuated from Sudan disembark from a military aircraft upon their arrival at Tunis-Carthage International Airport, on April 26, 2023. Image Credit: AFP


While the US says it’s too dangerous to get its citizens out, other countries are proceeding with evacuations of their nationals.

France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, Spain, Holland, Turkey, India, Japan, South Korea, Jordan, South Africa, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are among the countries that have evacuated their citizens and those of other countries.

Sudanese refugees who have fled the violence in their country queue to receive food supplements from World Food Programme (WFP) near the border between Sudan and Chad in Adre, Chad April 26, 2023. Image Credit: Reuters

Germany’s defence ministry said in a tweet it had ended its evacuation flights after flying more than 700 people out of Sudan including 200 Germans and hundreds more from more than 20 other nations. France said it had evacuated more than 500 people from 41 countries, and would keep a Navy frigate at Sudan’s main Red Sea port to continue assisting rescue operations for foreigners.


While many Americans may recall the dramatic 2021 evacuation of diplomats and private citizens alike from Afghanistan, those circumstances were far different. In most cases, the US does not evacuate private citizens when it closes an embassy.

The situation in Afghanistan was different because the US was ending a 20-year military presence in the country. It was trying to extricate the residual American presence there, much of which was directly tied to Washington’s role in propping up the Afghan government. No such situation existed or exists in Sudan.

More typical has been the practice in places like Yemen, Syria and Venezuela, where the US suspended diplomatic operations and removed personnel because of turmoil, but did not evacuate private citizens.

The US also briefly shuttered the embassy in Kyiv because of the war, but there was no military evacuation for either diplomats or private citizens, and the embassy has since re-opened.

In contrast with the situation in Afghanistan, the US was not involved militarily in the Sudan conflict and had no military presence on the ground apart from the small number of Marine guards at the Khartoum embassy.

Also, the US has warned Americans for several years not to travel to Sudan and told them that consular assistance at the embassy was extremely limited.