British and US military operations evacuate diplomatic staff from Sudan
Following an emergency Cobra meeting which was called late on Saturday evening, plans were laid to evacuate British diplomatic staff from Sudan where a conflict which has thus far claimed the lives more than 400 people continues without interruption. In the early hours of Sunday morning 23rd April, the Air Assault Brigade, the Royal Marines and the Royal Air Force were deployed to coordinate the safe removal of over 1200 British Diplomats and their families from the volatile and increasingly fierce fighting which continues to pervade the towns and streets of the capital city and the surrounding areas of Sudan.
UK Prime Minister says Operation is 'Complex and Rapid'
Hoped for responses to the international demands for a three-day humanitarian ceasefire appear to have been ignored. The UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak referred to the evacuation as a ‘complex and rapid’ operation.
Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace explained that diplomatic staff had been removed from Khartoum to an airfield outside the city to fly out overnight and he thanked the US and France for their assistance in the operation.
The operation took place as the US took steps early the same morning to evacuate approximately 100 of their diplomatic staff using three Chinook helicopters, which landed close to the US Embassy to pick them up.
Non-diplomatic British citizens left in limbo
So far there have been no plans or announcements in respect of evacuating non-diplomatic British nationals, although the Prime Minister gave assurances that work was continuing to ensure the safety of British nationals who remain in Sudan. Most British non-diplomatic citizens in Sudan have been advised to remain sheltered at home or wherever they are currently positioned, and crucially not to go out onto the streets. But many have expressed their concerns at lack of information being provided from the British Embassy as they are having to cope with dwindling food, water and other essential supplies.
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the Ministry of Defence jointly issued a statement 2pm Sunday, which read:
‘The UK has undertaken a military operation to evacuate British embassy staff from Khartoum, due to escalating violence and threats against foreign diplomats and embassy properties. We thank the armed forces for their bravery in conducting this complex operation under extremely challenging circumstances, and commend the courage and commitment of the UK diplomats and embassy staff. The safety of all British nationals in Sudan continues to be our utmost priority.
We are urging the warring factions to implement an immediate and prolonged ceasefire to allow civilians to leave, and the UK Government will do all we can to ensure the safe passage of our citizens in what remains a very challenging context. In the meantime, our advice to British nationals is to shelter in place and contact the Foreign Office to register your location and contact details.’
There have been reports that an agreement has been reached with General Fattah al-Burhan, the de facto Head of State of Sudan, to facilitate the secure evacuation by plane from Khartoum of US, French and Chinese nationals. British nationals have not been included as part of these plans.
'It's total chaos, nobody really knows what to do'
Reports from the United Nations indicate that as many as 20,000 refugees, mostly women and children, have crossed into Chad, which is braced for an expected much larger exodus in the coming days and is estimated to exceed 100,000. Several of the Gulf countries have indicated that they are considering using boats to evacuate their citizens from the Port Sudan on the Red Sea. One non-western diplomat is reported to have admitted: ‘It’s total chaos, nobody really knows what to do.’
The US state department Saturday stated that:
‘due to the uncertain security situation in Khartoum and closure of the airport, it is not currently safe to undertake a US government co-ordinated evacuation’.
Pentagon spokesperson, Lieutenant Colonel Phil Ventura, had stated Saturday also that the US intended to deploy from their military base in Djibouti:
‘additional capabilities nearby in the region for contingency purposes related to securing and potentially facilitating the departure of US embassy personnel from Sudan’
Japan also announced plans Saturday to dispatch a plane from Djibouti to evacuate approximately 60 of its citizens from Sudan.
US President on Sunday went public with news of the evacuation by the US military and echoed international calls for 'unhindered humanitarian access':
'Today, on my orders, the United States military conducted an operation to extract U.S. Government personnel from Khartoum. I am proud of the extraordinary commitment of our Embassy staff, who performed their duties with courage and professionalism and embodied America’s friendship and connection with the people of Sudan. I am grateful for the unmatched skill of our service members who successfully brought them to safety. And I thank Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Saudi Arabia, which were critical to the success of our operation.
I am receiving regular reports from my team on their ongoing work to assist Americans in Sudan, to the extent possible. We are also working closely with our allies and partners in this effort.
This tragic violence in Sudan has already cost the lives of hundreds of innocent civilians. It’s unconscionable and it must stop. The belligerent parties must implement an immediate and unconditional ceasefire, allow unhindered humanitarian access, and respect the will of the people of Sudan. We are temporarily suspending operations at the U.S. Embassy in Sudan, but our commitment to the Sudanese people and the future they want for themselves is unending.'