Foreign countries rushed to evacuate their nationals from Sudan as deadly fighting raged into a second week between forces loyal to two rival generals.
Evacuation flights were continuing early Monday, with hundreds of people flown out overnight on military aircraft. Foreigners also fled the capital Khartoum in a long United Nations convoy, while millions of frightened residents hunkered down inside their homes, many running low on water and food.
Across the city of five million, army and paramilitary troops have fought ferocious street battles since April 15, leaving behind charred tanks, gutted buildings and looted shops. More than 420 people have been killed and thousands wounded, according to UN figures, amid fears of wider turmoil and a humanitarian disaster in one of the world’s poorest nations.
US special forces launched a rescue mission Sunday for around 100 embassy staff and their relatives, swooping in with Chinook helicopters to fly them to a military base in Djibouti. US forces “will remain deployed in Djibouti to protect United States personnel and others until the security situation no longer requires their presence”, President Joe Biden said Sunday in a letter to the Speaker of the House.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said UK forces had also rescued diplomats and their families while Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his country had temporarily suspended its evacuation operation.
“Our diplomats are safe — they have been extracted and are working from outside the country,” Trudeau tweeted.
Germany and France meanwhile said they had also begun evacuating their nationals and those from other countries. Two French planes carrying around 200 people of multiple nationalities landed in Djibouti.
The German army said it had evacuated 101 people on the first of three military aircraft sent to Sudan. The first Airbus A400M “landed safely in Jordan” at around midnight local time (2100 GMT Sunday), the Bundeswehr said on Twitter. Another plane with 113 people was on its way to Jordan, it said.
Italy evacuated about 300 people in total, according to their foreign ministries.
“We reiterate the call for a ceasefire and resumption of dialogue in Sudan,” Madrid’s Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares tweeted.
Ireland said it was also dispatching an emergency team to assist with evacuating its citizens and their dependants. Egypt, Sudan’s large neighbour to the north, said it had evacuated 436 nationals by land.
Long convoys of UN vehicles and buses were seen leaving Khartoum heading east to Port Sudan on the Red Sea, 850 kilometres (530 miles) away by road, carrying “citizens from all over the world”, according to one Sierra Leonean evacuee.
‘Nowhere is safe’
The 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). Daglo’s RSF emerged from the Janjaweed fighters whom former leader Omar al-Bashir unleashed in the Darfur region, where they were accused of war crimes including genocide.
The military toppled Bashir in April 2019 following mass citizen protests. The two generals seized power in a 2021 coup, but later fell out in a bitter power struggle, most recently centred on the planned integration of the RSF into the regular army.
Multiple truces have been agreed in recent days, and ignored. Khartoum’s airport, where the blackened hulls of destroyed aircraft lie on runways, is under the control of the RSF.
The conflict has left terrified civilians sheltering inside their homes, with power largely off amid sweltering heat and the internet out for most. “Life in Khartoum today I would say is still burdened with anxiety and exhaustion,” said Tagreed Abdin, a programme manager and architect.
“We did get power back yesterday, Wednesday, in our area. But at the same time, there was a rocket strike in our neighbourhood a few doors down from us. So, it is like nowhere is safe.”
‘Don’t leave the Sudanese people unprotected’
Fighting has broken out elsewhere across Sudan, Africa’s third-biggest nation. Battles have raged in Darfur, where aid group Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said their medics had been “overwhelmed” by the number of patients with gunshot wounds, many of them children, in the city of El Fasher.
Some hospitals have been shelled and others ransacked, with more than two-thirds of hospitals in Khartoum and neighbouring states “out of service”, the doctors’ union said.
The scramble by foreigners to escape has heightened fears among Sudanese of what will happen when diplomats who could act as potential mediators have gone.
“Pushing for safe passages to evacuate internationals without simultaneously pushing to end the war will be terrible”, said researcher Hamid Khalafallah.
“International actors will have less impact once they’re out of country,” he said, adding in a message to foreign nations: “Do all you can to leave safely, but don’t leave the Sudanese people behind unprotected.”
The US Agency for International Development said it was ramping up assistance to people caught between the warring factions.
USAID “has deployed a disaster assistance response team in the region to coordinate the humanitarian response for those in need both within and outside of Sudan”, agency chief Samantha Power said Sunday, reiterating calls for a ceasefire.