US troops have carried out an evacuation of American embassy staff from Sudan’s capital as fighting between the Sudanese army and a rival paramilitary group continues for a ninth day.
About 70 American nationals have been successfully flown from a landing zone at the US Embassy in Khartoum to an undisclosed location in Ethiopia, an unnamed US official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the mission.
It is understood the UK is planning to evacuate British diplomats as soon as possible, while France is currently evacuating its diplomats and nationals, according to its foreign ministry.
UK troops and military aircraft have been moved to an overseas base to prepare for what would be a high-risk rescue mission into an active conflict zone – in case the order is given.
A spokesperson said: “The UK government has been planning and working with a number of international partners to support diplomatic staff and British nationals in Khartoum.
“It is not for us to comment on international partners’ military activity in Sudan, but we are fully aware of each other’s plan and integrated with those operations.”
Biden’s order amid ‘tragic violence’
President Joe Biden ordered the evacuation of US embassy staff after receiving a recommendation on Saturday from his national security team with no end in sight to the fighting.
In a statement, Mr Biden said: “Today, on my orders, the United States military conducted an operation to extract US government personnel from Khartoum.
“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.
“I am grateful for the unmatched skill of our service members who successfully brought them to safety. And I thank Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Saudi Arabia, which were critical to the success of our operation.”
He added: “This tragic violence in Sudan has already cost the lives of hundreds of innocent civilians. It’s unconscionable and it must stop.
“We are temporarily suspending operations at the US Embassy in Sudan, but our commitment to the Sudanese people and the future they want for themselves is unending.”
Embassy evacuations conducted by the US military are relatively rare and usually take place only under extreme conditions.
The US State Department said it has suspended operations at the embassy due to the dire security situation.
It added it would “continue to assist Americans in Sudan in planning for their own safety and provide regular updates to US citizens in the area”.
According to the World Health Organisation, fighting between forces loyal to two top generals has killed more than 400 people since erupting on 15 April.
The violence has included an unprovoked attack on a US diplomatic convoy and numerous incidents in which foreign diplomats and aid workers have been killed, injured or assaulted.
The White House said it has no plans for a government-coordinated evacuation of American citizens trapped in Sudan.
The US embassy said on Saturday 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”.
An estimated 16,000 US citizens are registered with the embassy as being in Sudan, although that figure is probably inaccurate because there is no requirement for Americans to register or notify the embassy when they leave.
The conflict between the armed forces, led by General Abdel Fattah al Burhan, and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), led by General Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, has derailed Sudan’s transition to democratic rule after decades of dictatorship and civil war.
Al Burhan said on Saturday he would facilitate the evacuation of American, British, Chinese and French citizens and diplomats from Sudan after speaking with the leaders of several countries that had requested help.
The RSF in a Twitter posting said it had cooperated with US forces during their evacuation mission.