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Biden admin leaning toward evacuating U.S. personnel from Sudan, sources say

An evacuation would include several dozen U.S. citizens working under the umbrella of the U.S. embassy, according to three sources.
Smoke rises in Khartoum, Sudan
Smoke rises in Khartoum, Sudan, on Wednesday. Marwan Ali / AP

The Biden administration is leaning toward evacuating U.S. government personnel from Sudan, two sources familiar with the planning told NBC News, after nearly a week of heavy fighting between the army and a rival paramilitary group in the capital city of Khartoum.

The evacuation would include several dozen U.S. citizens working under the umbrella of the U.S. embassy, according to a military official and two congressional staffers. The Pentagon announced Thursday that the U.S. was deploying extra troops to the region in case they were needed for an evacuation.

“We are paying close attention and assessing the situation on the ground, but an ultimate decision has not made been made yet,” State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel told reporters Friday when asked about a potential evacuation. “This is a fluid situation.”

A three-day truce was reached early Friday between the Sudanese Army and the Rapid Security Forces to allow for the flow of humanitarian aid and celebration of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, but it was not immediately clear how long the cease-fire would hold. 

“The reports of ongoing indiscriminate violence in Sudan threatens the safety of all civilians, and jeopardizes the aspirations of the Sudanese people for a democratic transition,” Patel said. “We are very concerned about reports of continuing clashes, attacks on civilians and looting and urge the SAF and RSF to uphold the nationwide ceasefire through at least the end of Eid al-Fitr [on] Sunday, April 23.”

The first American fatality in Sudan was confirmed Friday, but the State Department stressed that private U.S. citizens on the ground in Sudan should not expect a U.S.-government organized evacuation at this time because of the uncertain security situation. A State Department-issued travel advisory for Sudan has been warning Americans not to travel to the east African country since August 2021.

 “It is imperative that U.S. citizens and Sudan make their own arrangements to stay safe in these difficult circumstances,” Patel said Friday.

A U.S. diplomatic convoy came under fire in an apparent attack by fighters linked to one of the warring sides, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday, calling the incident “reckless” and “irresponsible.”

The State Department has established a Sudan Military Conflict Task Force to oversee the Department’s planning, management and logistics related to events in Sudan. NBC News has reported that there are more than 16,000 Americans on the ground in Sudan, many of them dual citizens. Around 500 of those American citizens had been in touch with the U.S. Embassy as of Wednesday and 55 had requested an evacuation, with the number expected to rise. 

Residential buildings damaged due to in fighting in Khartoum, Sudan
Residential buildings damaged in fighting in Khartoum, Sudan.Marwan Ali / AP

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, sent a letter to Blinken Friday raising concern for the safety of Americans in Sudan and urging the agency not to repeat the mistakes of the evacuation of U.S. government personnel and private citizens in Afghanistan in 2021.

Said Patel, “Throughout this whole process, even when you’ve heard the secretary speak to this on travels, we have also been very clear-eyed and consistent about the close attention that this department was, is taking as it relates to this. …  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.”

On Friday, White House spokesperson John Kirby told reporters that President Joe Biden would ultimately make the decision about any evacuation, “but it would be based on recommendations that he gets from senior military and State Department leaders.”

The Pentagon also said it had moved a small number of troops to a base in the nearby Horn of Africa country of Djibouti to support an evacuation. 

After a meeting of defense leaders from around Europe and the world at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said they had been positioned there “to make sure we provide as many options as possible if we are called to do something.”  

Washington has traditionally had limited influence in Sudan, though this began to change after dictator Omar al-Bashir was ousted in 2019 and the country began to move toward democracy.

Austin's comments came after Sudanese army chief Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan pledged the military would prevail and secure the vast nation’s “safe transition to civilian rule,” according to The Associated Press.

Burhan’s speech came 18 months after he joined forces with his current rival and RSF leader Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo — a former camel dealer widely known as Hemedti — to seize power in a coup that cast aside Sudan's pro-democracy forces.

Both men were leaders in a counterinsurgency against an uprising in Sudan’s Darfur region, a conflict that in 2005 saw al-Bashir become the world’s first sitting leader to be indicted by the International Criminal Court on suspicion of genocide.

Then they were part of the military establishment that helped oust al-Bashir after widespread popular unrest, raising hopes for democracy after his 30 years in power.

But the two generals have remained major political figures in the extremely unstable years since then.

Both sides disagree on how the RSF should be integrated into the military, a key condition of the framework agreement. The army wants the transition to happen in two years, while the RSF said it could take 10 years.

Talks broke down and an April 11 deadline to sign an agreement came and went.