WASHINGTON– Hundreds of Americans fleeing two weeks of deadly fighting in Sudan reached the East African country’s port on Saturday in the first US-led evacuation, making a dangerous overland journey escorted by armed drones .
US unmanned aircraft, which have been monitoring overland evacuation routes for days, provided armed surveillance of a bus convoy carrying 200 to 300 Americans 500 miles or 800 kilometers to Port Sudan, a place relatively safe, U.S. officials said.
The US, which had none of its officials on the ground for the evacuation, has been criticized by families of Americans trapped in Sudan for initially ruling out any US-led evacuation for those among the few 16,000 Americans in Sudan wishing to leave.
US special operations troops briefly traveled to the capital, Khartoum, on April 22 to airlift US embassy staff and other US government personnel. More than a dozen other nations have already carried out evacuations for their citizens, using a mix of military aircraft, navy ships and ground personnel.
A large group of international mediators – including African and Arab nations, the United Nations and the United States – succeeded only in securing a series of fragile temporary ceasefires that failed to stop the clashes but have created enough of a lull for tens of thousands of Sudanese to flee to safer areas and for foreign nations to evacuate thousands of their citizens by land, air and sea.
Since the conflict between two rival generals erupted on April 15, the United States has warned its citizens that they must find their own way out of the country, although US officials have tried to link Americans to evacuation efforts other nations. But that changed when US officials exploited a relative lull in the fighting and, from afar, organized their own convoy for the Americans, officials said.
Without the evacuation flights near the capital that other countries offer their citizens, many American citizens had to make the dangerous overland journey from Khartoum to the country’s main Red Sea port, Port Sudan. A Sudanese-American family who made the trip earlier described passing through numerous checkpoints manned by armed men and past bodies lying in the street and vehicles of other fleeing families who had been killed in the process. road.
State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said the convoy was carrying US citizens, US-employed locals and citizens of allied countries. “We reiterate our warning to Americans not to travel to Sudan,” he said.
From Port Sudan, away from the fighting, Americans in the convoy can seek berths on ships crossing the Red Sea to the Saudi port city of Jeddah. US officials are also working with Saudi Arabia to see if one of the kingdom’s navy ships can ferry more Americans to Jeddah.
US consular officials will wait for Americans once they reach the Jeddah dock, but there are no US personnel in Port Sudan, officials said.
Two Americans are confirmed killed in the fighting that broke out on April 15. One was an American civilian who officials say was caught in the crossfire. The other was a doctor from Iowa City, Iowa, who was stabbed to death outside his home and family in Khartoum in the lawless violence that accompanied the fighting.
In total, the fighting in the East African country has killed more than 500 people.
The United States airlifted all of its diplomats and military and closed its embassy on April 22. They left behind several thousand US citizens still in Sudan, many of whom hold dual citizenship.
The Biden administration had warned that it had no intention of joining other countries in organizing the evacuation of ordinary American citizens who wanted out, calling it too dangerous. There were no known members of the US government on the ground in Sudan to assist the convoy.