The US military is deploying “additional capabilities” nearby Sudan to secure the US embassy in the country and assist with a potential evacuation, if the situation calls for it, the Defense Department announced on Thursday.
That includes hundreds of Marines who are already in Camp Lemmonier in Djibouti, a US defense official told CNN, with aircraft capable of bringing in ground units to secure an embassy.
“The Department of Defense, through U.S. Africa Command, is monitoring the situation in Sudan and conducting prudent planning for various contingencies,” a statement from Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Phil Ventura said. “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.”
President Joe Biden has been monitoring the situation “very, very closely,” National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby said Thursday. The president “authorized the military to move forward with pre-positioning forces and to develop options in case – and I want to stress right now – in case there’s a need for an evacuation,” Kirby said.
State Department principal deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said Thursday that the department is in “close contact” with the embassy in Sudan.
“We’re engaging in this from all corners of the department and continue to have full accountability of our personnel,” he said.
The situation on the ground in Sudan has rapidly deteriorated as the Sudanese Armed Forces clash with the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.
While the two factions attempted to reach a truce on Tuesday, fighting erupted just hours after the groups agreed on a 24-hour ceasefire. At least 270 people have been killed so far in the chaos unfolding around the capitol of Khartoum and elsewhere in the country.
On Monday, the State Department established a Sudan Military Conflict Task Force in order to oversee the Department’s “planning, management, and logistics” related to the unrest in Sudan.
The defense official said the aircraft would be part of what’s officially known as an aviation combat element, consisting of pilots, maintainers, aircraft, and air intelligence personnel. That element would have the capability of bringing a ground combat unit into the area to secure the embassy in the event of an evacuation.
An evacuation is not imminent due to the volatile situation on the ground, a senior US official said. The US is looking to the upcoming Eid holiday for a potential ceasefire between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which could create a window to safely get people out of the country, according to the staffers, CNN reported yesterday.
Patel said Thursday that because of the “unfortunate and uncertain and very fluid security situation in Khartoum,” as well as the closure of airports, “it’s not safe to undertake a US government coordinated evacuate evacuation of private American citizens at this time.”
Not included in the embassy evacuation contingency at this point is a Marine Expeditionary Unit, the defense official said, a quick response force of thousands of Marines that counts evacuation operations among its critical missions.
A MEU deploys aboard a Navy ship, but a lack of ready amphibious vessels have recently hindered the Marine Corps’ MEU mission. Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger told Defense One in February that they “didn’t have” a MEU near Turkey to respond to a devastating earthquake that left tens of thousands dead.
The State Department has been “in communication with private US citizens in the region about safety measures and other precautions that they can take,” Patel said.
“We have been very clear about the need to for American citizens to remain indoors, to stay off the roads, to shelter in place, and to avoid traveling to the US Embassy at this time,” he added.
As of December there were 14 active duty US military personnel, including 13 Marines, in Sudan providing Embassy security.
CNN’s Betsy Klein contributed reporting.