Sudan: US and France evacuate citizens to escape Khartoum fighting

Sudan: US and France evacuate citizens to escape Khartoum fighting
US operations succeeded in evacuating under 100 citizens from the Sudanese capital of Khartoum, where fighting between rival generals' forces has entered its second week.
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Citizens from varying countries residing in Khartoum have been or are in the process of being evacuated as fighting rages [Getty]

US troops swooped in on helicopters to evacuate embassy staff from Sudan's battle-torn capital, President Joe Biden announced Sunday, as other nations sought to help their citizens escape deadly fighting between rival generals.

France on Sunday also launched evacuation operations from the northeast African nation, where fighting has entered its second week.

Ferocious battles between the Sudanese army and a paramilitary group - which has seen fighter jets launch airstrikes and street fighting with tanks in densely populated Khartoum - have killed more than 400 people and left thousands wounded.

Biden, who said the US military "conducted an operation" to extract US government personnel, called for an immediate ceasefire and condemned the deadly violence.

"It's unconscionable and it must stop," he said in a statement.

Just over 100 US special operations troops took part in the rescue to extract fewer than 100 people, which saw three Chinook helicopters fly from Djibouti, staying on the ground in Khartoum for less than an hour.

France's foreign ministry said Sunday a "rapid evacuation operation" had begun, and that European citizens and those from "allied partner countries" would also be assisted, without giving further details.

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Scramble to evacuate

Heavy fighting broke out on April 15 between forces loyal to army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his deputy turned rival Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, who commands the powerful paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

The former allies seized power in a 2021 coup but later fell out in a bitter power struggle.

Daglo's RSF emerged from the Janjaweed fighters unleashed in Darfur by former strongman leader Omar al-Bashir, where they were accused of war crimes.

US Under Secretary of State John Bass said that the RSF "cooperated to the extent that they did not fire on our service members", warning that a coordinated US government effort to evacuate other American citizens was unlikely in the coming days.

More than 150 people from various nations reached the safety of Saudi Arabia after naval forces launched a rescue across the Red Sea on Saturday, collecting 91 Saudi citizens and around 66 nationals from 12 other countries from Port Sudan, in the first announced evacuation of civilians.

Other foreign countries have said they are preparing for the potential evacuation of thousands more of their nationals, with South Korea and Japan deploying forces to nearby countries, and the European Union weighing a similar move.

Three German military transport planes had to turn back Wednesday, according to German weekly Der Spiegel.

Khartoum's airport has been the site of heavy fighting with aircraft destroyed on the runway, and is under the control of the RSF.

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'Living in darkness'

Multiple truces have been agreed and ignored.

The latest truce to be declared, for the Eid al-Fitr holiday that marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, saw gunfire momentarily die down on Friday but then resume. Fighting continues.

"Sadly, the main focus and impetus for the attempted Eid ceasefire in Sudan has been evacuations of foreign nationals, not humanitarian relief or peace diplomacy," Alan Boswell of the International Crisis Group said Sunday.

In Khartoum, the conflict has left terrified civilians sheltering inside their homes, with power largely cut amid sweltering heat in the city of five million people.

Many have ventured out only to get food and water, supplies of which are dwindling, or to flee the city.

"We were living in darkness, it's not normal. First we didn't have water and then we didn't have power," Khartoum resident Awad Ahmad Sherif said. "We ask God for our safety".

Adding to residents' woes was a "near-total collapse of internet connectivity" across the country, according to web monitor NetBlocks.

While the capital has seen some of the fiercest clashes, fighting has broken out elsewhere across Sudan, Africa's third biggest nation, roughly three times the size of France.

Battles have raged in Darfur, where Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in the city of El Fasher said their medics had been "overwhelmed" by the number of patients with gunshot wounds, many of them children.

The UN World Health Organization said more than 420 people had been killed and over 3,700 wounded in the fighting across Sudan, but the actual death toll is thought to be higher.

More than two-thirds of hospitals in Khartoum and neighbouring states are now "out of service", and at least four hospitals in North Kordofan state were shelled, the doctors' union said.

Burhan and Daglo's dispute centred on the planned integration of the RSF into the regular army, a key condition for a deal aimed at restoring Sudan's democratic transition after the military toppled Bashir in April 2019 following mass citizen protests.