United States embassy staff and their families have been evacuated by US forces from Sudan’s war-torn capital Khartoum, President Joe Biden said, as fighting between the Sudanese army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) entered a second week with hundreds killed and thousands injured.
“On my orders, the United States military conducted an operation to extract US Government personnel from Khartoum,” Biden said in a statement.
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Hours earlier on Sunday, the RSF announced that it had coordinated with a US military mission consisting of six aircraft which had evacuated the US diplomats and their families from the country.
“The Rapid Support Forces Command has coordinated with the US Forces Mission consisting of 6 aircraft, for evacuating diplomats and their families on Sunday morning,” the RSF said in a tweet.
The RSF also pledged “full cooperation with all diplomatic missions, and providing all necessary means of protection, and ensuring their safe return to their countries”.
In his statement, Biden expressed gratitude for the “unmatched skill” of US forces involved in the operation and noted that Djibouti, Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia had helped with the evacuation.
The US embassy staff were airlifted to an undisclosed location in Ethiopia, two US officials familiar with the mission told the Associated Press news agency. The evacuation order was believed to apply to about 70 US nationals.
With the departure of embassy staff, Washington has closed the US mission in Khartoum indefinitely, and the White House has said it has no plans for a government-coordinated evacuation of the estimated 16,000 private US citizens registered with the embassy as being in Sudan.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a tweet that the US would “continue to assist Americans in planning for their own safety” in Sudan, and press for a ceasefire to “prevent further damage to the Sudanese nation”.
.@StateDept has suspended operations at @USEmbassyKRT and evacuated all U.S. personnel and their dependents. We continue to assist Americans in planning for their own safety. We will also continue to press to expand the ceasefire to prevent further damage to the Sudanese nation.
— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) April 23, 2023
More than 150 people from various nations reached the safety of Saudi Arabia on Saturday in the first announced evacuation of civilians from Sudan.
Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry announced the “safe arrival” on Saturday of 91 of its citizens, along with nationals from Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Tunisia, Pakistan, India, Bulgaria, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Canada and Burkina Faso.
Saudi naval forces transported the civilians, including diplomats and international officials, across the Red Sea from Port Sudan to Jeddah.
Foreign nations have said they are preparing for the potential evacuation of thousands more of their nationals, even though Sudan’s main airport remains closed. The ongoing fighting has left hundreds dead and thousands wounded while people are coping to survive with shortages of electricity and food.
The army, under Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and the rival RSF, headed by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, have so far failed to observe ceasefires agreed upon almost daily since hostilities broke out on April 15.
‘I think we will not survive this’
Matthew Majok, a student in Khartoum, told Al Jazeera that the situation was dire, particularly with the lack of access to food and stray gunfire.
“We want to leave this country for safety. We’ve heard the situation is going to be worse in some days to come. I think we will not survive this one, we want to get out,” he said.
Fighting on Saturday breached what was meant to be a three-day truce from Friday to allow citizens to reach safety and visit family during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr. Both sides accused the other of not respecting the truce.
“I don’t have a problem with the ceasefire,” Hemedti told Al Arabiya TV late on Saturday. “They [the army] did not respect it. If they respect it, so will we.”
The United Nations and foreign states have urged the rival military leaders to honour declared ceasefires, open safe passage for civilians fleeing the fighting and allow the supply of badly needed food and medical aid.
Khaled Ahmed Idris, a director at Omdurman Teaching Hospital in the north of Khartoum, told Al Jazeera that there was a serious shortage of medical personnel, and those currently working were those at the hospital when fighting broke out last week. The hospital is operating at just 20 percent capacity due to fighting preventing staff from reaching the facility, he said.
“There is no longer any way to bring other medical staff from their homes or areas to the hospital. Of course, the doctors and nurses that have been here since last Saturday are completely exhausted.”
Western countries are expected to send planes for their citizens from Djibouti, though the Sudanese army has said airports in Khartoum and Darfur’s biggest city Nyala are problematic, and it was not clear when that might be possible.
One foreign diplomat who asked not to be identified said some diplomatic staff in Khartoum were hoping for evacuation by air from Port Sudan in the next two days.