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US military prepares for possible evacuation of embassy in Sudan

Sudan has exploded into civil war that risks becoming a regional conflict.
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KHARTOUM, SUDAN - APRIL 19: Smoke rises during clashes between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in Khartoum, Sudan on April 19, 2023. (Ahmed Satti/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The U.S. military is staging forces in case they are needed to evacuate the U.S. embassy in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, according to the Defense Department.

“The Department of Defense, through U.S. Africa Command, is monitoring the situation in Sudan and conducting prudent planning for various contingencies,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Phil Ventura, a Pentagon spokesman. “As part of this, we are deploying additional capabilities nearby in the region for contingency purposes related to securing and potentially facilitating the departure of U.S. Embassy personnel from Sudan, if circumstances require it. As a matter of policy and security, we do not speculate on potential future operations.”

Ventura did not say where U.S. troops are being sent in case they are needed for an evacuation, but open-source intelligence analyst Evergreen Intel tweeted on Tuesday that several U.S. C-17 Globemaster transport aircraft have either arrived or departed from Djibouti, where U.S. troops are based at Camp Lemonnier.

A U.S. official told Task & Purpose that Djibouti is one of the possible staging areas that the Defense Department is considering in case an evacuation of the embassy in Khartoum is ordered.

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Sudan imploded into civil war over the weekend as the country’s military and paramilitary forces began battling each other over which side should be in charge. Egypt has reportedly sent planes to help Sudan’s armed forces, while The Wagner Group – the notorious Russian private military company – has trained Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces since 2017. Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar also supports the Rapid Support Forces, contributing to the danger that the conflict in Sudan could become a regional war.

This image grab taken from AFPTV video footage on April 20, 2023, shows an aerial view of black smoke rising above the Khartoum International Airport amid ongoing battles between the forces of two rival generals. (Photo by AFP via Getty Images)

So far, no decision has been made on whether to evacuate the embassy, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said during Thursday’s White House news briefing.

President Joe Biden recently authorized the U.S. military to preposition forces and develop options in case an evacuation of the embassy becomes necessary, said Kirby, who deferred questions about when such an evacuation might take place to the Defense and State Departments.

Kirby also noted that Biden also authorized the U.S. military to preposition troops near Afghanistan in 2021 in case they were needed, and those troops ultimately carried out the evacuation of U.S. citizens and Afghans from Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.

“Pre-positioning forces is not a new idea for the U.S. military,” Kirby told reporters. “We want to be as close as you can get so that you can close down that time and space factor – it’s a physics problem at that point – so you can be there as quick as possible.”

Right now, the State Department has “good accountability” of all U.S. government personnel who work at the embassy in Khartoum, but not all of them are in the same place,” Kirby said.

“The embassy is still trying to get them all co-located together for their own safety,” Kirby said. “They are still sheltering in place where they are.”

The U.S. embassy in Khartoum’s Twitter account has pinned a tweet advising that a wider evacuation of all American citizens in Sudan is unlikely.

“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,” the tweet says.

Politico also reported on Thursday that any U.S. military evacuation would be limited to embassy staff and not include other Americans in the country.

It is unclear exactly how many U.S. citizens are currently in Sudan. The New York Times has reported that 19,000 Americans could be in the country, but the State Department does not provide information about how many U.S. citizens are living in or traveling to a particular country, in part because the department does not comprehensive lists of how many Americans are living overseas, a State Department spokesperson told Task & Purpose.

“Our embassies overseas compile rough estimates of U.S. citizens in their countries for contingency planning purposes, but these estimates can vary and are constantly changing,” the State Department spokesperson said.  “We do not want to provide figures that cannot be considered authoritative.”

When asked if the Biden administration has decided not to evacuate U.S. citizens outside of the embassy in Khartoum, Kirby reiterated that “no decision has been made to evacuate anybody,” adding that the U.S. government had already advised Americans not to travel to Sudan and to leave the country if they are already there.

“Let’s not get ahead of where we are,” Kirby said. “The focus right now is to preposition military forces nearby in the region in case they are needed.”

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