By Matthew Lee, Tara Copp, Aamer Madhani, and Associated Press staff
U.S. special operations forces carried out a precarious evacuation of the American embassy in warring Sudan on Sunday, sweeping in and out of the capital, Khartoum, with helicopters on the ground for less than an hour. No shots were fired and no major casualties were reported.
With the last U.S. employee of the embassy out, Washington shuttered the U.S. mission in Khartoum indefinitely. Remaining behind in the East African nation are thousands of private American citizens. U.S. officials said it would be too dangerous to carry out a broader evacuation operation.
Other foreign governments, including the United Kingdom, France, Greece, Egypt Saudi Arabia, and Jordan, evacuated diplomats, staff, and others trapped in the country as rival generals battled for a ninth day with no sign of a truce that had been declared for a major Muslim holiday.
Meanwhile, Sudanese desperately sought to flee the chaos. Many citizens risked dangerous roads to seek safer spots or crossed the northern frontier into Egypt.
Since fighting broke out April 15, more than 420 people, including 264 civilians, have been killed and more than 3,700 have been wounded in the fighting between the Sudanese armed forces and the powerful paramilitary group known as the Rapid Support Forces, or RSF.
Thousands of Sudanese have fled Khartoum and other hot spots, according to U.N. agencies, but millions are sheltering in their homes from explosions, gunfire and looting without adequate electricity, food or water.
The fighting — based on a power struggle between the Sudanese military, led by Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, and the RSF, led by Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo — has dealt a harsh blow to Sudan's hopes for a democratic transition. The rival generals came to power after a pro-democracy uprising led to the ouster of the former strongman, al-Bashir. In 2021, the generals joined forces to seize power in a coup. The two fell out over a recent internationally brokered deal with democracy activists that was meant to incorporate the RSF into the military and eventually lead to civilian rule.
Both generals, each craving international legitimacy, have accused the other of obstructing the evacuations. The Sudanese military alleged the RSF opened fire on a French convoy, wounding a French national. The RSF countered it came under attack by warplanes as French citizens and diplomats left the embassy for Omdurman, saying the military’s strikes “endangered the lives of French nationals.”
Fighters attacked a U.S. Embassy convoy last week, and stormed the home of the European Union ambassador to Sudan. The recent violence wounded an Egyptian Embassy employee in Sudan, according to Egypt’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zaid.
Fighting raged in Omdurman, a city across the Nile from Khartoum, residents said, despite a hoped-for cease-fire to coincide with the three-day Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr.
“We did not see such a truce,” Amin al-Tayed said from his home near state TV headquarters in Omdurman, adding that heavy gunfire and thundering explosions rocked the city.
In Sunday's fighting, a senior military official said army and police repelled an RSF attack on Kober Prison in Khartoum where Sudan’s longtime ruler, Omar al-Bashir, and former officials in his movement have been imprisoned since his ouster in 2019. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media, said a number of prisoners fled but al-Bashir and other high-profile inmates were still held in a “highly secure” area. The official said “a few prisoners” were killed or wounded.
The RSF claimed later Sunday that the military removed al-Bashir and other prisoners from the facility, although the statement could not be independently confirmed.
The ongoing violence has paralyzed the main international airport, destroying civilian planes and damaging at least one runway. Other airports also have been knocked out of operation.
The Arqin border crossing with Egypt was crowded with about 30 passenger buses holding at least 55 people each, said Suliman al-Kouni, an Egyptian dental student who fled northward from Khartoum with dozens of other Egyptian students.
“We traveled 15 hours on land at our own risk,” al-Kouni told The Associated Press by phone. “But many of our friends are still trapped in Sudan.”
Thick, black smoke filled the sky over Khartoum's airport. The RSF claimed the armed forces unleashed airstrikes on the upscale neighborhood of Kafouri, north of Khartoum. There was no immediate army comment.
The country experienced a “near-total collapse” of internet and phone connections nationwide Sunday, according to the monitoring service NetBlocks.
“It’s possible that infrastructure has been damaged or sabotaged,” said Netblocks director Alp Toker. “This will have a major effect on residents’ ability to stay safe and will impact the evacuation programs that are ongoing.”
Overland travel through contested areas has proven dangerous. Khartoum is about 840 kilometers (520 miles) from Port Sudan on the Red Sea.
Hospitals have struggled as violence rages. Many wounded are stranded by the fighting, according to the Sudan Doctors’ Syndicate that monitors casualties, suggesting the death toll is probably higher than what is known.
Khalid Omar, a spokesman for the pro-democracy bloc that seeks to restore civilian rule, urged the military and the RSF to return to talks to resolve their differences.
“There is an opportunity to stop this war and put the county on the right path,” he wrote on Facebook. “This is a war fueled by groups from the deposed regime who want it to continue.”
This story combines two Associated Press articles: Special forces swiftly evacuate US embassy staff from Sudan and Sudan fighting hastens evacuations of diplomats, citizens.
Associated Press writers Isabel DeBre in Jerusalem, Samy Magdy in Cairo, Michael Corder in The Hague, Netherlands, Angela Charlton in Paris, Frances D'Emilio in Rome and Fay Abuelgasim in Beirut contributed.