Chairman of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley has discussed the safety of US citizens in Sudan in a phone call with Sudan’s army chief, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, as Washington considers the possible evacuation of its embassy amid fighting in Sudan’s capital Khartoum and other parts of the country.
“The two leaders discussed the safety of Americans and the developing situation in Sudan,” Milley’s office said in a statement on Friday.
Keep readinglist of 4 items
Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin also said on Friday that the US military is preparing options to evacuate the US Embassy in Sudan amid the fighting that has killed hundreds, mainly in Khartoum and the west of the country.
“We’ve deployed some forces into theatre to ensure that we provide as many options as possible if we are called on to do something. And we haven’t been called on to do anything yet,” Austin told a news conference at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.
“No decision on anything has been made,” he said.
Two US officials said a decision on a possible evacuation of the embassy is expected soon but it was unclear if there will be a public announcement.
Fighting continued in Khartoum on Friday despite Sudan’s army saying it had agreed to a three-day truce with the rival Rapid Support Forces (RSF) to enable people to celebrate the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr. The RSF said earlier in the day that it had agreed to a 72-hour ceasefire to mark Eid.
Fighting had eased in some parts of the city on Friday evening, witnesses reported, according to the French news agency AFP.
Khartoum-based journalist and analyst Mohamed Alamin Ahmed told Al Jazeera that there had been a lull in the conflict during Friday night but that it did not amount to a truce.
“We cannot say that here is an implementation of the truce 100 percent because the two sides actually do a lot of movements of repositioning themselves,” he said, adding that sporadic gunfire could still be heard from different parts of the city.
“The situation is fluctuating. We cannot say that this truce is being implemented well but the situation is a little bit, going, a little bit positive.”
With the airport in Khartoum caught in the fighting and the skies unsafe, nations including Germany, Japan, South Korea, Spain and the US have been unable to evacuate embassy staff.
A Western diplomat said the evacuation situation in Sudan is one of the most difficult they have seen, with the US likely focused on getting a ceasefire and using that to get personnel out.
“In this case, the civil war starts in the capital, fighting is exactly where the embassies are and where the airport is. It’s unusually difficult,” the diplomat told the Reuters news agency.
John Kirby, the White House national security spokesperson, said US President Joe Biden approved a plan this week to move US forces nearby in case they are needed to help evacuate US diplomats, without saying where. Reuters previously reported their repositioning to Djibouti.
“We are simply pre-positioning some additional capabilities nearby in case that they’re needed,” Kirby told reporters.
Washington has said private US citizens in Sudan should have no expectation of a US government-coordinated evacuation. The US State Department’s deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said authorities were in touch with several hundred US citizens understood to be in Sudan.
Earlier on Friday, the State Department confirmed the death of one US citizen in the country.
.@StateDeputySpox: Reports of ongoing indiscriminate violence in Sudan threatens the safety of civilians and jeopardizes the aspirations of the Sudanese people for a democratic transition. We are very concerned about reports of continuing clashes, attacks on civilians & looting. pic.twitter.com/SSvUwqafnL
— Department of State (@StateDept) April 21, 2023
Other countries and the United Nations are also looking at how they can evacuate citizens and employees.
The UN has been trying to extract staff from “very dangerous” zones in Sudan to move them to safer locations, Abdou Dieng, the top UN aid official in Sudan, said on Thursday. Dieng said he had been moved to a safer area on Wednesday.
The UN has about 4,000 staff in Sudan, 800 of which are international staff.
Switzerland said on Friday it was examining ways to evacuate nationals from Sudan and Sweden said it will evacuate embassy staff as well as families as soon as possible. Spanish military aircraft are on standby and ready to evacuate some 60 Spanish nationals and others from Khartoum, while South Korea sent a military aircraft to stand by at a US military base in Djibouti to evacuate its nationals when possible.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said 413 people had been killed and 3,551 wounded in the fighting across Sudan so far, though the actual death toll is thought to be higher, with many wounded unable to reach hospitals.
The International Committee of the Red Cross urged “immediate and unimpeded humanitarian access”, saying it was a “legal obligation under international humanitarian law”.
Analysts have warned that the conflict could affect countries across the region, with the UN saying up to 20,000 people have already fled to neighbouring Chad.