The Unexpected Consequences: How US Evacuation from Sudan Left Americans Behind

by Joshua Brown
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Sudan is in chaos because different groups are fighting for control of the country. As a result, thousands of people have run away from Khartoum, the capital city and nearby battlefields. To help people escape safely, many countries including the United States are closing their embassies and creating different ways to evacuate their staffs and other citizens, like using convoys, flights, or cars.

Recently, each country has handled the situation differently while they are trying to help their citizens and embassy personnel to be safe. The United States sparked some debate when they took almost 70 of their staff away from Sudan in a special military helicopter mission done by their most skilled soldiers (SEAL Commandos). However, the US government told the thousands of other American citizens living in Sudan that there wouldn’t be any evacuations for them at this time.

The State Department has been asking Americans to stay in Sudan and not travel there. Out of the 16,000 American people living in Sudan, some of them want to leave and go out of the country. They are using different forms of transport such as boats leaving from Port Sudan or planes operated by other countries.

In Sudan, two powerful generals and their armies are in a battle for power. General Abdel Fattah Burhan is the leader of the Sudanese Army and General Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo- also known as ‘Head’ – leads the Rapid Support Force. They’re fighting for who will be in charge of Sudan.

Four years ago, the people of Sudan worked together to overthrow Omar al-Bashir and his dictatorship. But in 2021, two generals called Burhan and Dagalo took control of the country and made it so that no one could create a proper civilian government. They have done terrible things to hurt people’s rights, like stopping pro-democracy activists from speaking up.

Burhan and Dagalo had to come to an agreement with other political groups. But, the signing was kept being postponed because there was a lot of disagreement about the RSF joining the military and how leaders would be chosen. Finally, on April 15th, all of these tensions led to some fighting.

The Sudan divided into two sides, each with a lot of soldiers in and around Khartoum and Omdurman, which is on the other side of they Nile River. Fighting still happened on Wednesday – the second day of the temporary ceasefire. The US worked to get embassy staff out during this time.

Last week, the security situation in Khartoum got worse with the airport being damaged and an attack on a US diplomatic convoy. Because of this, the State Department said that they needed help from the military to keep their people safe. As a result, the US Embassy in Khartoum shut down and ordered all staff to leave immediately.

The Department of Defense sent some supplies to Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti to get ready for a possible evacuation. On Saturday, three helicopters which were driven by elite SEAL soldiers left from Djibouti and headed to Ethiopia to refuel and then continued their three-hour flight journey to Khartoum.

Lt. Gen D.A. Sims, director of operations at the Joint Staff said that helicopters flew in and out of Khartoum without getting shot at and the staff only spent an hour on ground there.

Even though they took people from the embassy with them, they had no plans to help evacuate thousands of Americans still in Sudan.

The State Department issued a warning on Tuesday that it is not safe for US citizens to leave Khartoum as the airport is closed. Instead, they suggested ways for people to cross borders if it is needed. However, be aware that there are still battles being fought and some routes may be dangerous and unpredictable.

If you’re an American citizen and you reach Port Sudan, you can take a boat to Jeddah. The U.S consulate there will help you out – that means mostly phone calls and remote support for now.

The U.S. could send ships to help Americans get from Port Sudan to Jeddah, or somewhere else that can offer transportation to the United States. But this only depends on how safe it is and if the ships can dock without any trouble. There are other plans as well, such as creating a special consulate in Port Sudan for now, making their Jeddah consulate better at helping people when they arrive, or using an airport close-by which European countries have used before for flying people home.

The United States officials believe that the security in Port Sudan is safer than it is in the capital city. However, they are still worried that the situation might get worse very quickly. Even though it’s too risky for US citizens to leave, other countries are currently evacuating their own people from this area.

Lots of countries such as France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, Spain, Holland, Turkey, Japan, South Korea, Jordan, South Africa, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have sent people back to their home countries. They even helped citizens from other countries go back home too!

Germany’s defense ministry said on Tuesday that they finished their mission of flying more than 700 people out of Sudan including 200 Germans and many others from over 20 other countries. France had rescued around 500 people from 41 different countries and will have a boat at Sudan’s Red Sea port to help with any further rescue operations for areigners. The U.K. is still helping civilians get away from Khartoum airport, and Brigadier Dan Reeve said the situation there is peaceful and Sudan’s armed forces are making sure it stays safe.

On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia reported that they had taken a ship to help evacuate over 2,000 people – including 114 who were from Saudi Arabia itself as well as other 2,000 people from 62 different countries. Meanwhile, Egypt also saved 1,500 of their citizens and declared that their diplomatic team won’t leave Sudan until everyone who wants to leave is safely evacuated. Unfortunately, an Egyptian employee of the embassy in Khartoum was fatally shot on Monday.

Lots of Americans might remember when people were taken out of Afghanistan in 2021. But normally, the US does not take out people who are not diplomats when an embassy closes.

The U.S. was leaving Afghanistan after being there for 20 years. The Americans were trying to stop supporting the government in the country and take away any remaining presence they had there, which was a lot. This type of situation isn’t happening in Sudan right now.

In certain countries, like Yemen, Syria and Venezuela, it has been common for the U.S. to suspend missions/operations and take away their staff due to troubles in that area. During the Russian invasion of Kyiv (Ukraine’s capital), the U.S. closed its embassy there briefly but did not get any diplomats or citizens out of the country. The embassy is now functioning again.

Unlike Afghanistan, the U.S. didn’t take part in Sudan’s conflict and there were only a few Marines guarding their embassy in Khartoum. Plus, they have been warning Americans not to visit Sudan since years ago and informing them that the help offered by their embassy was very little.

Three writers from Associated Press gathered information – Ellen from Washington, Jill from London and Sam from Cairo – for this article.

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