U.S. special operations forces carried out an evacuation of the American embassy in warring Sudan on Sunday, sweeping in and out of the capital, Khartoum, with helicopters on the ground for less than an hour. No shots were fired and no major casualties were reported.
With the last U.S. employee of the embassy out, Washington shuttered the U.S. mission in Khartoum indefinitely. Left behind were thousands of private American citizens remaining in the east African country.
U.S. officials said it would be too dangerous to carry out a broader evacuation mission. Battles between two rival Sudanese commanders entered their ninth day Sunday, forcing continued closing of the main international airport and leaving roads out of the country in control of armed men. Fighting has killed more than 400 people.
About 100 U.S. troops in three MH-47 helicopters carried out the operation. They airlifted all of roughly 70 remaining American employees from a landing zone at the embassy to an undisclosed location in Ethiopia. Ethiopia also provided overflight and refueling support, said Molly Phee, assistant secretary of state for African affairs.
U.S. Africa Command and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley were in contact with both warring factions before and during the operation to ensure that U.S. forces would have safe passage to conduct the evacuation. However, John Bass, a U.S. undersecretary of state, denied claims by one faction, Sudan’s paramilitary Rapid Security Forces, that it assisted in the U.S. evacuation.
“They cooperated to the extent that they did not fire on our service members in the course of the operation,” Bass said.
Sudan’s fighting broke out April 15 between two commanders who just 18 months earlier jointly orchestrated a military coup to derail the nation’s transition to democracy.
The ongoing power struggle now between the armed forces chief, Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, and the head of the Rapid Support Forces paramilitary group, Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, has millions of Sudanese cowering inside their homes, hiding from explosions, gunfire and looting.
The violence has included an unprovoked attack on an American diplomatic convoy and numerous incidents in which foreign diplomats and aid workers were killed, injured or assaulted.
An estimated 16,000 private U.S. citizens are registered with the embassy as being in Sudan. The figure is rough because not all Americans register with embassy or say when they depart.
The embassy issued an alert earlier Saturday cautioning that “due to the uncertain security situation in Khartoum and closure of the airport, it is not currently safe to undertake a U.S. government-coordinated evacuation of private U.S. citizens.”