Conflict has enveloped the country of Sudan and U.S. citizens are at risk; many of them seeking to escape the chaos and return to the United States. It is estimated that there are over 16,000 American citizens in Sudan. Some live and work there on a permanent basis. Others traveled there on short-term business trips or were vacationing and visiting family during Ramadan. While many may opt to stay in Sudan and ‘ride it out’; there are thousands who wish to leave – as soon as possible.
The conflict in Sudan (SOF News, Apr 21, 2023) began almost two weeks ago when the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and Rapid Support Forces (RSF) began fighting each other in the streets of the capital city, Khartoum, and across the country. The fighting took place as the country was scheduled to transition to civilian rule. As the situation deteriorated, many nations decided to evacuate their diplomatic staff. Some got their embassy personnel out as well as a number of their citizens.
The United States conducted an evacuation of the U.S. Embassy staff (SOF News, April 22, 2023) during a period of darkness in the early morning of Sunday, April 23rd (Sudan time). U.S. special operations forces landed helicopters at the location of the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum and evacuated around 70 U.S. embassy staff and families along with about 30 other foreign nationals to Djibouti. The extraction was performed within one hour with no casualties or shots fired. The air assets were fixed-wing aircraft from AFSOC, rotary-wing aircraft from the 160th SOAR, and a ground element of U.S. Navy SEALs. There are some reports that members of the 3rd Special Forces Group were involved as well.
Other nations conducted their embassy staff evacuations during this timeframe or within a few days of the U.S. embassy evacuation. In addition, many nations began evacuating their citizens – putting troops on the ground and landing aircraft at various locations to extract their citizens. However, the United States chose not to conduct a large-scale evacuation of U.S. citizens.
U.S. Is Avoiding a Large-Scale Evacuation
The Department of State is citing security concerns, logistical obstacles, and several other reasons for this non-evacuation of AMCITs policy. It also pointed out that State has issued several ‘do not travel’ warnings for Sudan over the past few yeas. In addition, numerous comments have been made by Biden administration spokesmen that have been stressing the ‘dual-citizenship’ status of the thousands of AMCITs in Sudan; many who have settled there permanently.
There are differences in how different nations are handling the evacuation. Compare the U.S. help for its AMCITs with how the British are doing the evacuation of their citizens. Posted on the UK website are these instructions:
“The British Government will help British nationals to leave Sudan from 25 April. Flights leave from Wadi Saeedna airfield (GPS: 15° 48 10 N, 32° 29 32 E; WhatThreeWords: refusals.atom.herds). Please travel to this location as soon as possible to be processed for the flight.”GOV.UK, April 25, 2023
The current policy of the United States is to help AMCITs from ‘afar’ – by remotely assisting Americans trying to flee the country . This means ‘no boots on the ground’ (BOG) and no U.S. airplanes landing on Sudan soil. So what type of assistance is State offering? For one, the U.S. is providing drone coverage for the main road between Khartoum in the center of the country and Port Sudan on the coast of the Red Sea. This ‘intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance’ (ISR) information will be shared with allies (UK, France, and others) who do have troops on the ground and who are running convoys to Port Sudan. Apparently, the U.S. is coordinating with other nations who are running evac convoys to take along U.S. citizens. In addition, the U.S. has moved (and continues) to move U.S. Navy vessels to the Red Sea in the vicinity of Port Sudan; ships that can help evacuate AMCITs who make it Port Sudan.
The U.S. State Department is offering the following guidance:
U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory for 24 April 2023:
“Situation in Sudan: Information for U.S. Citizens in Sudan”
U.S. Citizens who would like to be informed of options to leave Sudan as security conditions permit should complete this form.
State Department says it will assist any private American citizens in Sudan that make their way to Port Sudan and find a way to get onto a ferry to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Once in Jeddah consular officers in Jeddah are available to assist them. (Reuters, Apr 25, 2023)
Conducting a Large Scale NEO
Does the U.S. have the capability to conduct a large-scale non-combatant evacuation operation (NEO). Of course it does. It has done this successfully many times in the past. In August 2021, over a two week period, the Department of Defense successfully brought out over 70,000 to 80,000 evacuees from the Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA) in Afghanistan. The men and women of the various military services performed extremely well under difficult and dangerous circumstances. However, it was a messy and chaotic affair. The State Department got a big black eye on its decisions and performance and the Biden administration took a huge political hit.
The assets available to the U.S. for a NEO are plentiful. There are numerous U.S. Navy and Air Force bases scattered throughout the Middle East and Europe. Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti is about 800 miles (flying) from Khartoum. U.S. Navy vessels are currently positioned in the Red Sea off the coast of Port Sudan and more are in the region.
There are multiple ‘ground elements’ that could undertake or support a NEO in Sudan. These units include the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), The East Africa Response Force (EARF) located at Camp Lemonnier, the 82nd Airborne Division’s Immediate Response Force (IRF), an Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) currently in the Pacific, Special Forces and SEAL units of the Special Operations Command Africa based in Stuttgart, Germany, and other units as well.
Behind the Scenes?
Is the U.S. quietly helping out selected individuals in Sudan? Certainly JSOC and the CIA are not sitting this one out in the embassy compounds and on U.S. military ‘bases’ (small and large) of Ethiopia, Egypt, Kenya, Djibouti, and elsewhere. As in Afghanistan in August 2021, when SOF and the agency had folks going into hostile areas picking up ‘selected’ individuals and bringing them to safety; the same is probably taking place now in Sudan. One wonders if that extra effort is being extended to the typical American family of four from New York City who went to Sudan for a vacation to visit family and got caught up in an unexpected outbreak of hostilities.
What Comes Next?
For the time being, the Biden administration seems content to ‘help from afar’. Hopefully the AMCITs among the 16,000 who are in Sudan and want out, will ‘find their way’ to safety. Most likely, this will happen through the good will, hard work, and bravery of our allies who are ‘on the ground’.
Sudan NEO, daily log of the conflict in Sudan and evacuation efforts of foreign nationals.
“U.S. Embassy Staff Evacuated from Khartoum”, SOF News, April 22, 2023
“Crisis in Sudan”, SOF News, April 21, 2023