Diplomats Evacuated from Sudan, but Tens of Thousands of Foreigners Remain

Plumes of smoke rises over the city of Khartoum, as conflict between the Paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the army continues, as filmed from Omdurman, Sudan April 21, 2023, in this screengrab obtained from a video by Reuters.

More foreign powers evacuated diplomatic staff from Sudan on Sunday despite continued fighting between the Sudanese army and paramilitary forces in the capital, Khartoum, that has trapped millions of civilians on the front line.

One person was injured when a French diplomatic convoy came under fire in the city, Sudan’s military said, and an Egyptian diplomat was also shot and injured, according to Egypt’s Foreign Ministry.

Hundreds of United Nations staffers began a 19-hour exodus by road. The British, Canadian and Dutch governments all evacuated their embassies, officials said on Twitter, while the German Defense Ministry confirmed that it had started a mission to fly out German nationals – one of the only nations to do so.

“Our goal, in this dangerous situation in Sudan, is to fly out as many German nationals as possible from Khartoum,” the ministry said on Twitter. Later Sunday, the German Joint Operations Command said the first plane of 101 evacuees had arrived in Jordan.

French diplomatic and military officials, speaking to reporters on background, said their evacuation was still in progress Sunday. The operation is “very complicated” and could still face “difficulties,” the officials said, adding that one plane of evacuees had already left Sudan and another was expected to depart in the early evening local time.

The U.S. military successfully evacuated American diplomats and their families overnight, President Biden said late Saturday. Elements of SEAL Team 6 and the Army’s 3rd Special Forces Group took part in the evacuation, a security official said. The Americans were airlifted out on three MH-47 Chinook helicopters that flew first from Djibouti and then refueled in Ethiopia, according to a senior Pentagon official who briefed reporters Saturday night.

Another 16,000 American citizens who do not work for the government – many of them dual nationals – remain in Sudan. While U.S. officials said they could not evacuate them because the danger was too great, they are providing guidance on escape routes and other logistical information.

“I am concerned about the safety and security of U.S. nationals who’ve been serving in humanitarian missions or in other ways across the country,” Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.) said Sunday on CBS News’s “Face the Nation.”

“There are quite a few U.S.-Sudanese dual nationals in the country, and the U.N. and the U.S. and a number of other countries will do their best to help return to civilian rule to end the fighting to support a stabilization in Sudan.”

According to Christopher Maier, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity warfare, the State and Defense departments are working to help American citizens who may want to leave Sudan.

“One of those ways is to potentially make the overland routes out of Sudan potentially more viable,” he said. “So, [the Defense Department] is at present considering actions that may include use of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities to be able to observe routes and detect threats.”

The scramble to evacuate foreign nationals and diplomatic staff followed Sudan’s collapse into civil conflict, after political tensions between rival generals erupted into violence on April 15. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo – widely referred to by his nickname, Hemedti – heads the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a paramilitary group whose origins trace back to the Janjaweed militias that terrorized Darfur. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan is the commander of Sudan’s armed forces and the country’s de facto head of state.

Together, the two men seized power in Sudan in 2021, toppling a civilian-led government. In December, under intense diplomatic pressure, they agreed to a draft deal aimed at returning the country to civilian rule. But they clashed over power-sharing and a timeline to integrate Hemedti’s forces into the military; Hemedti wanted a longer timeline to maintain his power base. The final deal was due in April, but instead the two generals went to war.

The fighting has killed at least 450 people so far, according to the United Nations, and Sudan’s Health Ministry said at least 3,500 more have been injured. The casualty numbers are certainly a significant undercount, as ambulances have frequently been attacked and medical workers have been unable to collect bodies from the streets. Residents who fled Khartoum said the streets stank of death.

Most hospitals in Africa’s third-largest nation have shut down because of power outages, acute shortages of fuel and medical supplies, and attacks on health facilities and professionals, according to an internal U.N. document obtained by The Washington Post. Two staffers from the U.N. Human Rights Office survived a shooting attack by the RSF on Saturday in Khartoum, according to the document, which said they were traveling in U.N.-marked vehicles to collect colleagues for an evacuation.

The United Nations is attempting to pull out international employees by driving 813 miles from Khartoum to Port Sudan, U.N. employees said. “I am heartbroken,” said one person who was leaving. “I don’t know if I will see my friends alive again. I feel so guilty for leaving.”

But the operation to rescue diplomats leaves behind tens of thousands of foreign nationals and millions of Sudanese with no hope of safety. Intense fighting erupted so suddenly – there were airstrikes in the heart of the capital within hours, and passengers were shot on a commercial jet in the airport – that many people were stranded far from family members.

Roads leading south out of the capital are bristling with militia fighters, said Adam Omer, a science teacher and pro-democracy activist who managed to make it to South Sudan.

RSF gunmen had accused his brother of being affiliated with the Sudanese army because he is very fit, Omer said, and the group they were traveling with had to pay all their money to RSF gunmen to be released. “There are dead citizens on the road who resisted,” he said. “Many dead.”

An estimated 10,000 to 20,000 people fleeing Sudan’s Darfur region have arrived in neighboring Chad since hostilities began, the U.N. refugee agency said in an email Sunday. The majority of those arriving are women and children.

“They are staying out in the open, under the trees, in villages close to the border with Sudan,” said Faith Kasina, a spokeswoman for the agency’s operations in eastern Africa.

Some Sudanese reacted angrily to the pullout, saying they had been betrayed by Western nations that backed the December power-sharing agreement.

“To the western negotiators: you put us in this mess & now you’re swooping in to take your kinfolk (the ones that matter) & leaving us behind to these two murdering psychopaths,” tweeted Dallia Mohamed Abdelmoniem, a Khartoum resident who fled after a mortar crashed into her house. “God have mercy on us cause no one else gives a damn and no one else will be merciful.”

One security analyst, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters, said it would be “shopping day in Khartoum” as militias start looting compounds left behind. Several places had already been attacked, he said.

A prison official and a policeman said most prisoners in Khartoum’s maximum-security Kober prison were released Friday because of nearby fighting and a lack of food. But two of the highest-profile prisoners – former president Omar al-Bashir and Abdel-Rahim Muhammad Hussein – are in a military hospital, an employee there told The Post. Both are wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity, as well as other charges. A third prisoner also indicted is still in Kober under guard, said one prison official.

Meanwhile, internet connectivity in Sudan appeared to be at 2 percent of ordinary levels, global internet watchdog NetBlocks tweeted Sunday. Shutting down the internet would cripple the attempts that Sudanese civilians have made to help save one another: sharing news of escape routes and roadblocks, which pharmacies have not been looted, and where the fighting is moving that day.

In a briefing call with reporters, Molly Phee, the top U.S. diplomat for Africa, said Washington had impressed upon Sudan’s leaders that “nearly the entire world is united in shock at their conduct and united in their demands to cease this fighting.”