The United States government has not yet made a decision about whether to evacuate US diplomatic personnel from Sudan, but preparations are continuing for a potential evacuation, multiple US officials said Friday.
Officials from the White House, State Department, and Defense Department stressed that they are closely monitoring the volatile situation in the country, where hundreds have been killed and injured since intense fighting between rival military factions broke out days ago. Humanitarian organizations have warned of massive consequences if the violence continues.
John Kirby, the communications coordinator for the National Security Council, said Friday that President Joe Biden would make the final decision on whether to evacuate American personnel who are posted in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum.
“There has not been a decision made,” Kirby said. “It’s just a matter of making sure that we’re ready for it.”
On Thursday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged the commanders of warring parties – the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Security Forces (RSF) – to lay down their weapons this weekend in honor of the Eid al-Fitr holiday, and he reiterated that call on Friday.
Such a pause in the violence could present an opportunity for the US to get its personnel out of the country.
However, despite claims from both military factions that they had agreed to a ceasefire, there were reports of continued fighting in the capital city of Khartoum.
Even as the US government evaluates its options for an evacuation of the American personnel in Khartoum, American officials on Friday made clear that there were no plans at the moment to evacuate other American citizens there.
“Due to uncertain security situations in Khartoum and closure of the airport, Americans should have no expectation of a US government-coordinated evacuation at this time,” State Department principal deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said on Friday.
US officials on Friday noted that they were continuing “to preposition capabilities nearby,” in Kirby’s words, to be ready for a potential evacuation of American personnel from Sudan.
“We continue to coordinate with the State Department to make sure we have a common vision of what the situation is,” US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said.
“We always want to make sure that we’re doing prudent planning, which is what we’re doing. We’ve deployed some forces to … into theater to ensure that we provide as many options as possible if we are called on to do something, and we haven’t been called on to do anything yet,” he said at a press conference in Germany.
A US defense official told CNN that the US is considering deploying the Army’s Immediate Response Force to assist with an evacuation. The team has deployed several times in the last few years, including to Afghanistan during the chaotic US withdrawal, after an attack on the US embassy in Baghdad in December 2019, and to Poland at the start of Russia’s invasion in 2022.
The US intends to consolidate its personnel at the embassy in Khartoum – a facility that former NSC official Cameron Hudson described as a “fortress” – but Kirby said Friday that “that process is not complete.”
Evacuating the diplomats would require the US to trust that the warring SAF and RSF commanders have good command and control of their soldiers on the ground, said Hudson, who is now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
“In the trust department, they’re bankrupt,” he told CNN.
‘Kabul casts a very long shadow over Khartoum’
Officials on Friday stressed that they do not have plans to evacuate regular American citizens from Sudan, and pointed to warnings issued by the State Department about travel to the country.
“When it comes to Sudan, this is a warning – a level four warning that we provided to them many months ago, basically telling Americans who were there to leave if they could, and not to travel – Americans not to travel to Sudan. So, we’ve been very clear on that,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.
Patel, meanwhile, said at a State Department press briefing, “It is imperative that US citizens in Sudan make their own arrangements to stay safe in these difficult circumstances.” He added that the State Department has been in touch with “several hundred American citizens who we understand to be in Sudan” to discuss “security precautions and other measures that they can take on their own.”
The State Department does not keep official counts of US citizens in foreign countries and Americans are not required to register when they go abroad. Officials told staffers Wednesday that there could be an estimated 16,000 American citizens in Sudan, most of whom are dual nationals.
The US government typically does not facilitate evacuations for regular citizens. The US withdrawal from Afghanistan presented a rare – and chaotic – exception to that norm.
Jean-Pierre emphasized that Afghanistan was “a unique situation for many reasons, including already hosting a significant military presence.”
Still, “Kabul casts a very long shadow over Khartoum right now,” CSIS’ Hudson told CNN.
“The people that I’ve spoken to are fully aware of the optics of that, and the optics, frankly, of leaving a city of 6 million people to fend for itself as it goes up in flames,” he said, adding that a small evacuation of American personnel could trigger panic.
On Friday, Republican House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Michael McCaul sent a letter to Blinken seeking answers about evacuation plans from Sudan, saying he did not want to see a repeat of “the mistakes of the Afghanistan evacuation.”
“The Afghanistan Non-Combatant Evacuation Operation (NEO) in 2021 demonstrated the consequences of failing to plan adequately for worst-case scenarios, mixed messaging by the State Department, unclear chains of command, the inadequate coordination between the State Department and the Department of Defense, and the failure to coordinate with private organizations evacuating American citizens,” the Texas Republican wrote.
Prior to the letter, the State Department pushed back on the notion that it was repeating the errors of Afghanistan with Sudan.
“We’re taking appropriate actions that are in line with previous lessons learned, not just as it relates to Afghanistan, but in other circumstances where we have had personnel on the ground and they are in harm’s way,” Patel said at the briefing.
“I would push back on the notion that we are acting too late. That is certainly not the case. We have been working diligently. Ambassador John Godfrey and his team have been working diligently to take appropriate steps to keep his team and our personnel safe. And we’ll continue to do that,” he said.
CNN’s Kylie Atwood, Haley Britzky, Oren Liebermann, Michael Conte, Nikki Carvajal and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.