The U.S. military evacuated American Embassy officials from Sudan’s capital early Sunday morning, starting an exodus of foreign diplomats amid continuing violence as rival military leaders battled for control of Africa’s third-largest country.
Almost 100 people — mostly U.S. Embassy employees — were evacuated using helicopters that flew in from the nation of Djibouti, about 800 miles away, according to U.S. officials. Just over 100 special operations troops were involved.
President Biden made the decision on Friday to evacuate the embassy as soon as it was safe and feasible. After several failed cease-fires between the two warring factions, another attempted for the Eid holiday marking the end of Ramadan offered a brief window when it was safer to fly in and out.
Within hours of the U.S. announcement, a swell of other countries, including France and Germany, followed suit. France was helping evacuated European Union diplomats, according to one of the bloc’s top officials.
Sunday was the ninth day of brutal fighting in Khartoum and other parts of the country between the army and a paramilitary group called the Rapid Support Forces, whose leaders are vying for supremacy in Sudan.
As helicopters and planes swept away foreigners, Sudanese citizens also have continued to flee their homes, particularly in Khartoum. But the journey can be dangerous, and those who have been trying to leave the country via land borders can face challenges, including not having valid passports or visas for neighboring countries. Many of those still stranded in their homes are without electricity, food or water. Loosely connected groups of activists, known as the resistance committees, have mobilized to help.
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Road travel from the capital involves considerable risk. Khartoum is 600 miles from the border with Egypt and 525 miles from Port Sudan on the Red Sea — about the same distance as from New York City to Columbus, Ohio — through areas contested by the two sides.
More than 15,000 people from the western region of Darfur have fled into neighboring Chad, and humanitarian organizations have reported being unable to work amid the incessant fighting.
The U.S. government has no plans to evacuate an estimated 16,000 American citizens in Sudan, but, officials said, it is working to advise them on safe ways to leave. Communications, including internet and phones, have been erratic and only about 60 people have contacted the embassy or other American officials to request help.
At least 400 people have been killed in the clashes and 3,500 injured, according to the United Nations. That includes at least 256 civilians who died and 1,454 who were wounded, according to a doctors’ union.