As the violent struggle for power over Sudan reaches the one-week mark, the White House is sticking firmly to its warning for private citizens not to expect to be rescued.
While Biden administration says it is working towards evacuating American embassy staff still stranded in the country, it makes no promises about other Americans who could get let behind.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Friday that it is not America’s standard procedure to evacuate citizens living abroad.
Principal Deputy State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel also said that officials had been in touch with several hundred of the estimated 16,000 U.S. citizens in Sudan concerning “security measures and other precautions they can take on their own.
However, Patel noted that the State Department has listed Sudan under its highest-level travel advisory for months, which warns Americans not to journey to the country and advises that if they do, the U.S. government may not be able to provide help in a crisis.
“We have not parsed our words or been ignorant or naïve about the delicate and fragile security situation in Sudan,” Patel claimed.
In this photo provided by Maheen S., smoke fills the sky in Khartoum, Sudan, near Doha…Show more
But while mass evacuations of private citizens may not be standard practice for the American government, they’re not unheard of.
It would be recalled that during the turbulent U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in August of 2021, the Biden administration airlifted tens of thousands of embassy personnel, private American citizens, Special Immigrant Visa holders and applicants, as well as others. Still, numerous Americans and Afghan allies were left behind at the end of August 2021.
A more direct comparison to the situation in Sudan might be the mass evacuation of nearly 15,000 U.S. citizens from Lebanon in 2006 when an ongoing conflict between Israel and the militant group Hezbollah unexpectedly and rapidly intensified.
During the crisis, the Department of State and Department of Defense worked in tandem across the course of several weeks to transport Americans out of Lebanon on helicopters, military ships and contracted commercial boats.
But Sudan’s capital city, Khartoum, is hundreds of miles from an accessible waterway, and the intense fighting has made traveling through the country treacherous.
The unrest in Sudan also extends to its airspace. Khartoum’s primary airport is closed and badly damaged, and airlines have suspended travel after a jet came under fire.
Even a limited operation to evacuate embassy staff by air would be perilous due in part to the threat posed by combatants’ anti-aircraft weaponry.
On Friday, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby discussed the challenges of evacuating the embassy, saying it’s “not as simple as jumping in a taxicab” and that all U.S. government personnel had not yet been consolidated in a single location.
For those wondering what will trigger President Biden to ultimately approve a full withdrawal of government personnel from the Embassy — Kirby was not willing to draw a red line or describe which conditions might prompt that move, and he declined to say if or when the president would approve a rescue mission for embassy staff.
So far, at least 330 people have been reported dead and 3,200 injured from the fighting between the Sudanese military and Rapid Support Forces, though the true figures are likely higher, according to the World Health Organization.