The United States is preparing to send a large number of additional troops to its military base in Djibouti in case of an eventual emergency evacuation from Sudan of American citizens.
Forces commanded by two previously allied leaders of Sudan’s ruling council began a violent power struggle last weekend that has so far killed more than 330 people, tipping a nation reliant on food aid into what the United Nations calls a humanitarian catastrophe.
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“We are deploying additional capabilities nearby in the region for contingency purposes related to securing and potentially facilitating the departure of US embassy personnel from Sudan, if circumstances require it,” the Pentagon said in a statement on Thursday.
Djibouti, a tiny nation of about one million people, has become essential to US operations in Africa and the Middle East. The US secured a 10-year lease for the base in 2014 and pays $63m annually.
White House spokesperson John Kirby said President Joe Biden ordered the pre-positioning of military forces to be ready, adding he was closely following developments.
Kirby said there are no indications Americans are being targeted but it was a dangerous situation in Sudan.
The best thing that can happen is for the two sides to lay down arms, abide by a ceasefire, and let humanitarian aid get to the people in Khartoum, he added.
The State Department previously told US citizens in Sudan to remain sheltered in place indoors. Washington does not provide numbers of US citizens living in or travelling to a particular country.
The US embassy in Khartoum also issued a statement on Thursday saying because of the security situation and closure of the airport, “it is not currently safe to undertake a US government-coordinated evacuation of private US citizens”.
The Embassy continues to closely monitor the situation in Khartoum and surrounding areas, where there is ongoing fighting, gunfire, and security forces activity. There have also been reports of assaults, home invasions, and looting. U.S. citizens are strongly… pic.twitter.com/u6LwySN867
— U.S. Embassy Khartoum (@USEmbassyKRT) April 20, 2023
Fierce battles in Sudan
The fiercest battles between the army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) have been around Khartoum, one of Africa’s largest urban areas, and in Darfur, still scarred by a brutal conflict that ended three years ago.
Sudan’s military ruler, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, heads a ruling council installed after the 2021 military coup and the 2019 removal of veteran autocrat Omar al-Bashir.
Paramilitary leader General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, widely known as Hemedti, who analysts say may command more than 100,000 fighters, was his deputy on the council.
The latest violence was triggered by disagreement over an internationally backed plan to form a new civilian government. Both sides accuse the other of thwarting the transition.
A group of four countries known as the Quad – the United States, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia – have pushed international efforts to find a political solution in Sudan, along with the United Nations, the African Union and the African trade bloc, Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).
Thousands of civilians have fled Khartoum and large numbers of people have also crossed into Chad to flee fighting in Darfur.
The United Nations refugee agency told Al Jazeera the “vast majority” of those who had crossed the border into Chad were women and children.