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Armed U.S. drones, Navy ship help evacuate American citizens in war-torn Sudan

A U.S. official confirmed the USNS Brunswick has arrived in Port Sudan to assist with the effort to evacuate U.S. citizens.

Armed drones escorted hundreds of Americans as they began their escape from war-torn Sudan on Saturday amid fierce fighting between the military and a rival paramilitary group.

The unmanned aerial vehicles flew above a convoy of buses as they made the 500-mile journey from the Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, to Port Sudan on the east coast, a U.S. official familiar with the matter confirmed. Several hundred Americans were on at least a dozen buses, said the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly.

A U.S. official confirmed Sunday that the USNS Brunswick has arrived in Port Sudan to assist with the evacuation effort.

A tank at a checkpoint in Khartoum, Sudan, on April 30, 2023.
A tank at a checkpoint in Khartoum, Sudan, on Sunday.AFP - Getty Images

The official said that it is likely that some of the U.S. citizens who arrived in Port Sudan on the U.S.-organized bus convoy will board the ship to leave Sudan but that details are still being worked out.

Officials said the U.S. government was likely to release more exact figures once the Americans had made it safely to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. 

Separately, a Defense Department spokesperson said, “The Department of Defense deployed U.S. intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets to support air and land evacuation routes, which Americans are using.”

Sabrina Singh, the deputy Pentagon press secretary, said that the U.S. was “moving naval assets within the region to provide any necessary support along the coast” and that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had “approved a request for assistance from the Department of State to support the safe departure.”

Matthew Miller, a State Department spokesperson, said Saturday that “intensive negotiations” by the U.S. with the support of “regional and international partners” created the conditions allowing the evacuation of citizens and noncitizens alike, including Saturday’s operation.

Elsewhere, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said in a statement Saturday that U.S. nationals were among almost 1,900 foreign evacuees who arrived in Jeddah by ship Saturday. It did not say how many Americans were on board.

Smoke rises above the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, on Saturday.Marwan Ali / AP

Fighting continued despite the extension of a fragile truce between the country’s two top generals, Sudan’s de facto ruler, Abdel Fattah Burhan, and his former deputy, Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo — a former camel dealer widely known as Hemedti who leads the Rapid Security Forces, a rival paramilitary group. 

The pair had teamed up to co-orchestrate the coup that overthrew the government in October 2021. But their alliance spectacularly broke down over how to manage the transition to a civilian government and a disagreement over how the Rapid Security Forces should be integrated into the armed forces and what authority should oversee the process.

The bombardments, gunbattles and sniper fire in densely populated areas have hit civilian infrastructure, including many hospitals. Khartoum, a city of 5 million people, has been transformed into a front line.  

In some areas in and around the capital, residents told The Associated Press that shops were reopening and normalcy was gradually returning as the scale of fighting dwindled after the shaky truce. But in other areas, terrified residents told the AP that explosions were thundering around them and fighters were ransacking houses.

Several attempts at a cease-fire have failed.

Miller, of the State Department, said the U.S. continued “to call on the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces to end the fighting that is endangering civilians.” He said Americans had been discouraged from traveling to Sudan.

There was some good news as the International Committee of the Red Cross said in a statement that a “badly needed” 8-ton medical shipment consisting of surgical dressings, anesthetics and other medical supplies arrived at Port Sudan on Sunday.

The Red Cross said a second plane carrying additional supplies and emergency personnel was on its way.