(KHARTOUM, Sudan) — As countries wind down mass evacuations of their nationals from war-torn Sudan and the White House warns time is running out, the United States is undertaking its first effort to move hundreds of private Americans citizens out of Khartoum.
A U.S. government-organized convoy carrying U.S citizens, locally employed staff and nationals from allied and partner countries arrived at Port Sudan on Saturday, according to the State Department.
“The U.S. government has taken extensive efforts to contact U.S. citizens in Sudan and enable the departure of those who wished to leave. We messaged every U.S. citizen in Sudan who communicated with us during the crisis and provided specific instructions about joining this convoy to those who were interested in departing via the land route,” the State Department’s statement said. “We encourage U.S. citizens who want to leave Sudan but chose not to participate in this convoy to contact the Department of State using the crisis intake form on our website.”
The evacuation was enabled by “intensive negotiations by the United States with the support of our regional and international partners,” according to the State Department, which reiterated its warning to Americans not to travel to Sudan.
On Thursday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre advised that Americans in Sudan who wished to leave should “take advantage of the options that are available to them in the next 24 to 48 hours.”
Although countries like Saudi Arabia and Spain started evacuating their citizens and other foreign nationals from Sudan in the early days of the week and the U.S. airlifted diplomats from Khartoum over the weekend, the administration maintained that carrying out a largescale operation to rescue some of the thousands of American citizens residing in Sudan was not feasible.
The United Kingdom, Germany, and France have all also evacuated thousands.
But not all operations have gone smoothly. On Friday, Turkey reported that one of its aircraft had come under fire as it landed in Khartoum—underscoring the threat ongoing fighting poses to air rescues.
Before news of the U.S.-led convoy broke, State Department Principal Deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel defend the administration’s posture, and said it had played a hand in the mass evacuations orchestrated by other countries.
“Our allies and partners that are conducting operations that are able to also take American citizens out–we of course, are incredibly thankful and gracious for their ability to do so. But this is a collective and collaborative effort,” he said. “We are offering logistical support for some of these operations to be conducted. Whether they be overland, whether they be through the air.”
Patel also said that the State Department was in contact with fewer that 5,000 U.S. citizens about the crisis in Sudan, and that “only a fraction” of that number had actively sought assistance to depart the country.
Other officials familiar with the situation have said it’s unclear how much demand there is from American nationals for an exit route, emphasizing that individual’s desire to leave can change on a day-by-day basis.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday that the State Department was working to establish “a sustained process” through which Americans could depart Sudan.
“We believe that the best way to have an enduring capability to help people leave Sudan–if that’s what they so choose–is overland. And we’re working to establish a process that would enable people to move overland to a place where they can more easily exit the country,” Blinken said.
At least two American citizens are among the over 500 killed in in the violence that erupted two weeks ago, which has injured thousands more.
Although the U.S. had assisted in brokering a number of ceasefires in Sudan, their implementation has been uneven. Although both sides agreed to another 72-hour truce on Friday, there’s little hope it will hold.
“It’s obvious to everybody that the ceasefires are not perfectly working,” a U.S. official said. “But we are hearing from multiple contacts on the ground, as well as our international partners, that the series of efforts to push forward ceasefires are creating meaningful periods of reduction of violence and that these periods are allowing people to move out of Khartoum.”
But as more foreign nationals leave, there’s looming concern in Sudan that the battle for control over the country will catapult to new intensity.
“There’s going to be fewer eyes on what’s happening,” said Jon Temin, Vice President for Policy and Programs at the Truman Center for National Policy.
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