A broad international effort was under way on Sunday to evacuate foreign nationals from Sudan, as a week of fighting between the country’s armed forces and a paramilitary group complicates efforts to extract thousands of diplomats and expats.
The White House said late on Saturday that it was suspending operations at its embassy and had conducted an operation to remove US government personnel from the capital Khartoum.
About 100 special forces personnel were involved in the mission and evacuated nearly 100 embassy staff, according to US officials.
Mark Warner, Democratic chair of the Senate intelligence select committee, told ABC News on Sunday that the US was working with partners in the Middle East, Europe and China to ensure Americans still in Sudan could be removed safely. But they needed to “shelter in place” in the meantime.
British prime minister Rishi Sunak tweeted on Sunday that “UK armed forces have completed a complex and rapid evacuation of British diplomats and their families from Sudan, amid a significant escalation in violence and threats to embassy staff”.
UK defence secretary Ben Wallace said in a statement that “the operation involved more than 1,200 personnel from 16 Air Assault Brigade, the Royal Marines and the RAF”.
Sunak and US president Joe Biden have both called for an end to the fighting. “This tragic violence in Sudan has already cost the lives of hundreds of innocent civilians,” said Biden. “It’s unconscionable and it must stop,” he added.
France’s foreign ministry said it was co-ordinating a “rapid evacuation plan” for its diplomats and citizens, as well as for people from other countries that had requested French help.
Its first flight left the Khartoum area bound for Djibouti on Sunday afternoon with about 100 people onboard, according to a French defence ministry official. Additional flights are expected to depart on Sunday evening and on Monday.
“We must remain prudent until the operation is done, which we hope will be tomorrow or the day after tomorrow,” said the French defence official.
Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry said the kingdom had evacuated 157 people, including 91 Saudis and citizens of other countries. State television showed one of the naval vessels used arriving in the port city of Jeddah with evacuees.
Ghana’s ministry of foreign affairs said in a statement that it was “co-ordinating the evacuation of our citizens and plans are under way to secure their safe passage to Ethiopia”.
The evacuations highlight the downward spiral in Sudan’s security since fierce fighting erupted last weekend between the army led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, better known as Hemeti, Sudan’s vice-president and commander of the Rapid Support Forces.
The clashes have paralysed Khartoum airport, where a number of civilian aircraft have been destroyed.
Both warring Sudanese sides blamed each other for what they said was an attack on a French evacuation convoy that wounded a French citizen. The French government declined to comment.
Egypt’s foreign ministry said one of its embassy staff members had been shot, but provided no further details.
More than 400 people have been killed in the fighting, including at least four UN aid workers, with more than 3,500 injured. The US state department confirmed an American citizen had been killed in the fighting but did not provide further details.
Three employees with the World Food Programme and one person from the International Organization for Migration have also died.
Diplomatic delegations have also been attacked, including a US diplomatic convoy and the Norwegian diplomatic residence, which was hit by a missile.
Additional reporting by Colby Smith, John Paul Rathbone and Aanu Adeoye