The United States continues to look at options to help dozens of private U.S. citizens who wish to leave Sudan amid ongoing violence and is exploring ways to return a diplomatic and consular presence to the African country as soon as possible, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday.
“In just the last 36 hours since the embassy evacuation operation was completed, we've continued to be in close communication with U.S. citizens and individuals affiliated with the U.S. government to provide assistance and facilitate available departure routes for those seeking to move to safety via land, air and sea,” Blinken told reporters.
He spoke during a press conference at the State Department with Alfred Mutua, Kenya’s secretary for foreign and diaspora affairs.
“This includes Americans who are traveling overland and the U.N. convoy from Khartoum to Port Sudan.”
Blinken acknowledged some convoys have encountered problems, including robbery and looting.
Washington does not plan to coordinate a large-scale evacuation of private U.S. citizens in Sudan due to the volatile security situation and the closure of Khartoum's main airport. There are believed to be about 16,000 Americans in Sudan, an overwhelming majority of them dual nationals.
The secretary of state said dozens of Americans have expressed an interest in leaving Sudan amid deadly fighting between rival factions — the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces paramilitary group.
At the White House, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said, "At the president's direction, we are actively facilitating the departure of American citizens who want to leave Sudan. … We have deployed U.S. intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets to support land evacuation routes, which Americans are using.”
While Kenya has started plans to evacuate its citizens from Sudan amid the escalating crisis, Mutua said Nairobi is not closing its diplomatic offices.
“We're not shutting them down, because we want to have a presence as we negotiate,” said Mutua, adding Kenya is committed to hosting a negotiation between Sudan’s two warring groups for a peaceful settlement.
Without naming names, Mutua asked “external forces” to “leave Sudan alone.”
An analysis published by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies said in recent years, the Russia-linked mercenary Wagner Group has established close ties with Sudanese security forces and sought to exploit these connections to advance Moscow’s economic and military interests, including lucrative gold mining concessions.
Washington is engaging directly with the warring Sudanese military leaders to see if the recent Eid-al-Fitr cease-fire, which reduced but did not stop the clashes, can be extended to facilitate humanitarian arrangements. Eid-al-Fitr marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
A majority of U.S. government personnel who were evacuated from Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, were scheduled to arrive in Washington Monday, an official who has knowledge of the operation but wishes not to be named told VOA.
Meanwhile, a senior Pentagon official said the United States is looking for options to help other Americans who wish to leave the embattled central African country.
"One of those ways is to potentially make the overland routes out of Sudan potentially more viable," said Chris Maier, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, during a phone briefing late Saturday. “DOD is at present considering actions that may include use of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities to be able to observe routes and detect threats,” he added.
Over the weekend, U.S. special operations forces evacuated all American diplomats and their families from the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum, using helicopters that flew from a base in Djibouti and refueled in Ethiopia. They were not fired on during the evacuation. Several diplomats from other countries were also evacuated in the operations.
The White House said U.S. military forces will remain deployed in Djibouti to protect U.S. personnel and others until the security situation in Sudan no longer requires their presence. It said additional forces are prepared to deploy to the region if needed.
More than 420 people have been killed and more than 3,500 injured in Sudan. Two-thirds of the hospitals have closed since fighting erupted more than a week ago.
The World Health Organization has urged the warring military factions to halt fighting to allow a humanitarian corridor for health workers, patients, and ambulances.
There need to be “pathways” so civilians “can get to safer parts of the country,” Rebecca Hamilton, a law professor at American University and a former lawyer for the International Criminal Court, told VOA.
VOA's Anita Powell and Vero Balderas Iglesias contributed to this report.