The U.S. Embassy in Sudan issued a security alert Saturday, warning American citizens to “shelter in place until further notice,” hours after the country’s military said it had agreed to guarantee evacuation requests made by the United States, Britain, France and China.
“It is not currently safe to undertake a U.S. government co-ordinated evacuation of private U.S. citizens,” the alert said, as fighting continued between the Sudanese army and it’s partner turned rival, the Rapid Support Forces paramilitary group in the capital Khartoum and other parts of the west African nation.
The alert said there was “incomplete information” about convoys traveling from the west African country’s capital Khartoum to the coastal city of Port Sudan. “The embassy is unable to assist convoys. Traveling in any convoy is at your own risk,” it added.
At least one American has been killed in Sudan since the fighting began, the State Department confirmed Friday. The U.S. victim’s name, gender, hometown and other details were not immediately disclosed.
The alert was issued hours after the Sudanese Armed Forces said in a Facebook post that “the United States, Britain, France and China will evacuate their diplomats and citizens by air with military transport aircraft belonging to their armed forces from Khartoum.”
It said that Gen. Fattah al-Burhan, the Sudanese army chief, had agreed to guarantee the evacuation requests, although it did not say how the departures would be organized.
The international airport in Khartoum is currently closed because of the fighting.
An estimated 16,000 Americans are on the ground in Sudan, many of them dual citizens. Around 500 of those American citizens had been in touch with the U.S. Embassy as of Wednesday, and 55 had requested an evacuation, with the number expected to rise.
A U.S. diplomatic convoy came under fire in an apparent attack by fighters linked to one of the warring sides, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday, calling the incident “reckless” and “irresponsible.”
The Biden administration is leaning toward evacuating U.S. government personnel from Sudan, a military official and two congressional staff members, told NBC News Friday.
Sudanese army soldier sit atop a tank in the Red Sea city of Port Sudan, on April 20, 2023.AFP via Getty ImagesIt was unclear when any evacuation might take place, but the Pentagon announced Thursday that the U.S. was deploying extra troops to the region in case they were needed for an evacuation.
Elsewhere, Britain’s Foreign office said in a statement that it was “doing everything possible” to support its citizens and diplomatic staff in the country, but it did not mention any evacuation attempt. French officials have yet to comment.
The Sudanese army’s announcement came after days of intense pressure from the international community for a cease-fire and for help in facilitating the evacuations from the country.
The Sudanese military said in a statement on Friday that it had agreed to a three-day cease-fire “to enable citizens to celebrate Eid al-Fitr and allow humanitarian services to proceed smoothly.”
But fighting continued overnight into Saturday morning and explosions could be heard in Khartoum. Two cease-fire attempts earlier this week also rapidly collapsed.
The bombardments, gun battles and sniper fire in densely populated areas have hit civilian infrastructure, including many hospitals.
The clashes have killed more than 400 people so far, the World Health Organization said in a statement Friday, although it stressed the death toll would likely be higher.
Fighting erupted after months of tensions between the military and the Rapid Support Forces Rafter months of heightened tensions between the two forces that had delayed a deal with political parties to get the country back to its short-lived transition to democracy, which was derailed by a military coup in October 2021.
Both sides disagree on how the Rapid Support Forces should be integrated into the military, a key condition of the framework agreement. The army wants the transition to happen in two years, while the Rapid Support Forces said it could take 10 years.
Burhan and his current rival and Rapid Support Forces leader, Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, a former camel dealer widely known as Hemedti, were leaders in a counterinsurgency against an uprising in Sudan’s Darfur region, a conflict that in 2005 saw the country’s dictator, Omar al-Bashir, become the world’s first sitting leader to be indicted by the International Criminal Court on suspicion of genocide.
They were part of the military establishment that helped oust al-Bashir in 2019 after widespread popular unrest, raising hopes for democracy after his 30 years in power.
The two generals then joined together to overthrow the Western-backed government of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdock in 2021.
But conflict sparked earlier this month over a disagreement over how to integrate the Rapid Support Forces, Hemedti’s faction, into the national army, a key condition of a framework agreement to return Sudan to democratic civilian rule.
Charlene Gubash is an NBC News producer based in Cairo. Gubash, a native Minnesotan, has lived and worked in the Egyptian capital since 1985.
Victoria Di Gioacchino