The U.S. military successfully evacuated American diplomats and their families overnight, President Biden said. Elements of SEAL Team 6 and the army’s 3rd Special Forces Group took part in the evacuation, a security official said. Some locally employed staffers will remain to take care of the U.S. facility until embassy operations resume.
The Dutch Embassy tweeted that it had also pulled out its staff, and a diplomatic official said the German Embassy was evacuating with the French. The British also evacuated their embassy, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said in a tweet.
The scramble to evacuate personnel and suspend U.S. Embassy operations follows the explosion of fighting between Sudan’s military and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) eight days ago. The RSF is headed by Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo — universally referred to Hemedti — while Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan is the commander of the Sudanese armed forces and the country’s de facto head of state.
The two sides are supposedly observing a 72-hour cease-fire that expires Sunday night to allow civilians to flee the fighting, but witnesses said fighting continued in Khartoum and in other areas.
Sudan’s military blamed the RSF for firing on the French convoy, while the paramilitary group blamed an air attack by the Sudanese armed forces. Both sides said one person was injured. A spokesperson for France’s Foreign Ministry declined to comment on an ongoing operation.
The United Nations is attempting to pull out international employees by driving 813 miles from Khartoum to Port Sudan, U.N. employees said. “I am heartbroken,” said one who was being pulled out. “I don’t know if I will see my friends alive again. I feel so guilty for leaving.”
But the operation to rescue diplomats leaves behind tens of thousands of foreign nationals, including 16,000 American citizens, and millions of Sudanese with no hope of safety.
Most hospitals in Africa’s third-largest nation have shut down, and aid agencies have been forced to suspend operations after staffers were killed and assaulted. Roads leading south out of the capital are bristling with militia fighters, said Adam Omer, a science teacher and pro-democracy activist who managed to make it to South Sudan.
RSF gunmen had accused his brother of being affiliated with the Sudanese army because he is very fit, Omer said, and the group they were traveling with had to pay all their money to RSF gunmen to be released. “There are dead citizens on the road who resisted,” he said. “Many dead.”
Another woman said bus drivers with whom they had been in touch to try to escape were no longer taking calls.
Some reacted angrily to the pullout, saying they had been betrayed by Western nations that had backed a draft deal in December that exacerbated tensions between Hemedti and Burhan. The two rivals disagreed on power sharing and a timeline to integrate Hemedti’s forces into the military, but international mediators said the deal was the best chance of charting a path back to civilian government.
“To the western negotiators: you put us in this mess & now you’re swooping in to take your kinfolk (the ones that matter) & leaving us behind to these two murdering psychopaths,” tweeted Dallia Mohamed Abdelmoniem, a Khartoum resident who fled after a mortar crashed into her house. “God have mercy on us cause no one else gives a damn and no one else will be merciful.”
One security analyst, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters, said it would be “shopping day in Khartoum” as militias start looting compounds left behind. Several places had already been attacked, he said.
The fighting has killed at least 400 people so far and injured 3,500 more, according to the United Nations. At least 256 civilians have been killed, although that is probably a significant undercount as ambulances have frequently been attacked and medical workers have not been able to collect bodies from the streets. Residents who fled Khartoum said the streets stank of death.
U.S. officials said they could not evacuate the approximately 16,000 Americans in Sudan who do not work for the government because the danger was too great. Getting that many people out quickly would require the use of large planes, but many airfields are contested or have been attacked and damaged, and at least 14 planes were destroyed in Khartoum’s international airport on of the first day of fighting. However, U.S. officials said they are providing guidance on escape routes and other logistical information.
“In the coming days, we will continue to work with the State Department to help American citizens who may want to leave Sudan,” said Christopher Maier, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity warfare. “One of those ways is to potentially make the overland routes out of Sudan potentially more viable. So, DOD is at present considering actions that may include use of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities to be able to observe routes and detect threats.”
A senior U.S. State Department official, John Bass, rejected claims by the RSF that the group had supported the embassy evacuation. “They cooperated to the extent that they did not fire on our service members,” he said.
Meanwhile, internet connectivity in Sudan appeared to be at 2 percent of ordinary levels, global internet watchdog Netblocks tweeted Sunday. Shutting down the internet would cripple the attempts that Sudanese civilians have made to help save one another: sharing news of escape routes and roadblocks, which pharmacies have not been looted, and where the fighting is moving that day.
The RSF’s English Twitter feed has provoked anger and ridicule in Sudan as the group pledges to observe human rights, offers a hotline to report abuses and praises democracy while its gunmen rob and shoot civilians, occupy hospitals, invade homes, loot aid agencies and burn markets.
The operation to rescue the U.S. diplomats included three MH-47 Chinook transport helicopters that lifted off at 9 a.m. Eastern time Saturday from Djibouti, landed in Ethiopia for a refuel and flew three hours to Khartoum. The operation was “fast and clean,” with service members spending less than an hour on the ground, Lt. Gen. Douglas A. Sims II told reporters Saturday night.
Molly Phee, the top U.S. diplomat for Africa, said Washington had impressed upon Sudan’s leaders that “nearly the entire world is united in shock at their conduct and united in their demands to cease this fighting, which is so threatening to the people and to the nation.”
“We’re also going to remain engaged with our partners who are working to end the fighting,” Phee said.
Hafiz Haroun, Shane Harris and Annabelle Timsit contributed to this report.