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As Sudan Descends Into Chaos, Naval Forces Prepare for Evacuation

Foreign nationals disembark a French transport plane after evacuation from Khartoum (French Embassy in Khartoum)
Foreign nationals disembark a French transport plane after evacuation from Khartoum (French Embassy in Khartoum)

Published Apr 25, 2023 2:21 AM by The Maritime Executive

As the security situation in Sudan continues to deteriorate, multiple governments are lining up naval resources in the Red Sea to prepare for the emergency evacuation of foreign nationals. U.S. and Saudi diplomats have negotiated a tenuous 72-hour ceasefire between the warring factions in order to give non-Sudanese citizens an opportunity to escape to safety, and operations to help foreigners leave the country are under way. 

On April 15, a fight broke out between Sudan's military (SAF) and an allied paramilitary group, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). Over 400 people have been killed in heavy combat, including fighting in the capital of Khartoum. The conflict has a long backstory: the RSF and the military joined forces to overthrow a civilian government in a coup in 2021, but their alliance disintegrated during a carefully orchestrated transition back to democratic rule. Under a negotiated deal, the RSF was to be folded into the SAF, and both would give up a measure of their political power to a new civilian government. As the date for finalizing the agreement approached, tensions flared and both sides accused each other of mobilizing to seize control of the country. The disagreement escalated into violence, including shelling and urban combat. 

As the fighting showed no sign of letting up, the U.S. military evacuated the last 70 personnel from the embassy in Khartoum on Saturday night, supported by a guard force of 100 troops. The force was pre-positioned to Djibouti several days in advance, and it successfully airlifted embassy staff to safety without further incident. “I am grateful for the unmatched skill of our service members who successfully brought them to safety," said President Joe Biden in a statement after the operation. 

Though the State Department has advised U.S. nationals to leave Sudan, an unknown number of Americans remain in the country. About 16,000 U.S. citizens are believed to remain, though the exact number is not known. 

In preparation to assist any further evacuation plans, the U.S. Navy has staged the cruiser USS Truxton off Sudan's Red Sea coast. The expeditionary sea base USS Lewis B. Puller - which has a large flight deck and ample accommodations capacity - is under way to help if needed.

India has also dispatched air and naval assets to repatriate some 3,000 citizens in Sudan. About 500 Indian nationals have reached Port Sudan, according to external affairs minister Dr. S. Jaishankar, and India plans to send a naval vessel to the port to evacuate them. France has also dispatched a warship to Port Sudan, and it has evacuated about 500 people of 36 different nationalities by air. 

China is also working to evacuate its nationals, reportedly by moving them overland through neighboring countries. 

The situation for evacuees may be substantially better than for those left behind. One third of Sudanese are dependent on food aid, and because of violence and looting, the World Food Programme is suspending its massive distribution operations in the country.