Amid ongoing violence in Sudan which has left hundreds of people dead, the U.S. military has successfully evacuated American government employees from the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum, the White House announced late Saturday night. In a statement following the evacuation, President Biden confirmed that the U.S. was “temporarily suspending operations” at the embassy.
Mr. Biden disclosed that he ordered the extraction operation and was “grateful for the unmatched skill of our service members who successfully brought” the U.S. diplomatic workers “to safety.”
The State Department also confirmed the U.S. Embassy’s temporary closure, adding that “the U.S. government cannot provide routine or emergency consular services to U.S. citizens in Sudan, due to the current security situation.”
In a statement, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called the evacuation a “successful operation,” and thanking “our allies and partners, including Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Saudi Arabia.”
The details of the extraction — and the exact number of people evacuated — was unclear. The Sudanese paramilitary group Rapid Support Forces (RSF) tweeted that the U.S. military used six planes to conduct the evacuation early Sunday morning local time. It was unclear if diplomats from any other nations were included.
Sources familiar with the matter had previously told CBS News that the evacuation of roughly 70 U.S. government workers had been in the planning stages all week.
It was still unclear what would happen to the dozens of local non-American staff employed at the embassy.
Regarding American civilians still trapped in Sudan, Mr. Biden said that he was “receiving regular reports from” his “team on their ongoing work to assist Americans in Sudan, to the extent possible. We are also working closely with our allies and partners in this effort.”
There are hundreds of American civilians in Sudan — 500 was the number shared with congressional sources. The State Department acknowledges that some records show 16,000 U.S. citizens may be in Sudan, but officials consider those figures to be inflated.
Sources familiar with the planning had told CBS News prior to embassy workers’ extraction that American civilians would not to be included in that evacuation. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby had said on Friday that operations were underway at that time to bring U.S. government personnel to the relative safety of the embassy, and that American civilians would be responsible for their own safety and exit from the country.
Kirby had acknowledged that the personnel movements were part of preparation for an evacuation. “We want to be ready for that eventuality if it comes to that,” but cautioned that “it is a very dangerous situation in Khartoum, as the fighting continues.”
A U.S. diplomatic convoy flying the American flag was fired upon April 17 while security attempted to bring Americans back to the compound. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called it a “reckless” and “irresponsible” act, and said that forces aligned with RSF — a paramilitary group led by General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo — had likely taken the shots.
Republican Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, the House Foreign Affairs Committee chair, said in a statement provided to CBS News Saturday evening that “there will be consequences for those who interfere in the safe passage of American citizens, including our diplomats, who are fleeing indiscriminate violence in Khartoum and throughout Sudan.”
McCaul called on “regional partners to support the safe evacuation of civilians leaving Sudan.”
Intense fighting between two rival Sudanese generals broke out earlier this month. Although multiple ceasefires have been called, gunfire has continued regardless. According to the latest numbers Saturday from the World Health Organization, at least 420 people have died in Sudan since the violence broke out earlier this month. An American citizen died in the fighting on Thursday, the State Department said.
The Pentagon had acknowledged that special operators had been moved into Djibouti to assist with the exit. The Defense Department also said it was on standby.
“We deployed some forces into the theater to ensure that we provide as many options as possible if we are called on to do something, and we haven’t been called on to do anything yet. No decision on anything has been made,” Austin told reporters at a Friday news conference.
The Sudanese Armed Forces posted to Facebook Friday that their General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan has received calls from the leaders of several countries to allow their citizens and diplomatic staff to evacuate. The post stated that al-Burhan has agreed to provide the necessary assistance, and that the evacuation of diplomats from the U.S., Britain, France, and China was expected to start immediately.
RSF tweeted Friday that they were ready to partially open all airports for friendly countries who wish to evacuate their citizens. Khartoum International Airport has remained closed for several days, as is Sudan’s border with neighboring Chad, according to the State Department.
The Sudanese Armed Forces and RSF have been clashing since April 8, when al-Burhan dissolved a power-sharing council and announced his intention to hold elections this year.
Until recently, the two groups were allies whose leadership had come together in 2019 to overthrow Sudan’s brutal dictator Omar al-Bashir. The return to civilian rule comes with a decision over which general will be subordinate to the other. This decision sparked heavy fighting earlier this month and conditions in Sudan’s cities have deteriorated.