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U.S. government personnel evacuated from Sudan amid violence, embassy shuttered

U.S. embassy staff evacuated from Sudan
U.S. embassy staff and families evacuated from Sudan 02:39

Amid ongoing violence in Sudan that has left hundreds of people dead, the U.S. military has successfully evacuated American government employees from their embassy in Khartoum, the White House announced late Saturday night. 

The diplomats were on the ground in Dijbouti for about 30 minutes on Sunday morning and took off for Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany at about 2:30 a.m. ET, CBS News' David Martin reports. Secretary of State Antony Blinken monitored the evacuation efforts from the State Department, according to State Department principal deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel. 

In a statement following the evacuation, President Biden confirmed that the U.S. was "temporarily suspending operations" at the embassy. 

Mr. Biden disclosed that he ordered the extraction operation and was "grateful for the unmatched skill of our service members who successfully brought" the U.S. diplomatic workers "to safety." 

The State Department also confirmed the U.S. Embassy's temporary closure, adding that "the U.S. government cannot provide routine or emergency consular services to U.S. citizens in Sudan, due to the current security situation."

In a statement, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called the evacuation a "successful operation," and thanked "our allies and partners, including Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Saudi Arabia."

In a State Department and Pentagon briefing overnight, officials said just over 100 U.S. troops, all special operations forces, executed the evacuation. Fewer than 100 people were evacuated from the embassy, including Marines who had been attached to the embassy and some foreign diplomatic professionals who were at the embassy. Troops were on the ground for less than an hour in what was described as a "fast and clean" operation. U.S. forces did not take any small arms fire heading in our out of Khartoum, U.S. officials said. 

U.S. officials on the briefing call with reporters said they don't foresee coordinating a U.S. government evacuation for other U.S. citizens still in Sudan at this time. 

Sources familiar with the matter had previously told CBS News that the evacuation of roughly 70 U.S. government workers had been in the planning stages all week. 

Regarding American civilians still trapped in Sudan, Mr. Biden said that he was "receiving regular reports from" his "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."

There are hundreds of American civilians in Sudan — 500 was the number shared with congressional sources. The State Department acknowledges that some records show 16,000 U.S. citizens may be in Sudan, but officials consider those figures to be inflated.

Sources familiar with the planning had told CBS News prior to embassy workers' extraction that American civilians would not to be included in that evacuation. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby had said on Friday that operations were underway at that time to bring U.S. government personnel to the relative safety of the embassy, and that American civilians would be responsible for their own safety and exit from the country. 

Kirby had acknowledged that the personnel movements were part of preparation for an evacuation. "We want to be ready for that eventuality if it comes to that," but cautioned that "it is a very dangerous situation in Khartoum, as the fighting continues."

The governments of the U.K., Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Russia and at least six other countries had announced by Sunday that they had evacuated all diplomatic personnel. Germany, Italy and Russia also evacuated resident nationals. India, Lebanon, South Korea and Japan were among the nations still working on evacuation operations by air and sea.

Sudan's Rapid Support Forces (RSF) said it had been attacked by aircraft during the evacuation, leading to a French national being wounded. A French defense ministry official declined to comment.

In an interview with "Face the Nation" on Sunday, Sen. Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware, said an over-land convoy is the "most likely path out" for United Nations workers as well as U.S. nationals who are still in Sudan but want to leave.

"I am concerned about the safety and security of U.S. nationals who've been serving in humanitarian missions or in other ways across the country," he said. "There are quite a few U.S.-Sudanese dual nationals in the country, and the U.N. and the U.S. and a number of other countries will do their best to help return to civilian rule to end the fighting to support a stabilization in Sudan."

Coons warned that the U.S. may have "limited leverage" in the coming weeks and months to stop the fighting for control of Sudan, as the government does not have "deep relationships" with either the Sudanese military or the RSF, the paramilitary group led by Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.

"We have some leverage in that we provide development assistance, humanitarian relief, but frankly, these two warring factions have started what may well be a fight to the finish," he said.

A U.S. diplomatic convoy flying the American flag was fired upon April 17 while security attempted to bring Americans back to the compound. Blinken called it a "reckless" and "irresponsible" act, and said that forces aligned with RSF had likely taken the shots.

Republican Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, the House Foreign Affairs Committee chair, said in a statement provided to CBS News Saturday evening that "there will be consequences for those who interfere in the safe passage of American citizens, including our diplomats, who are fleeing indiscriminate violence in Khartoum and throughout Sudan."

McCaul called on "regional partners to support the safe evacuation of civilians leaving Sudan."

Intense fighting between two rival Sudanese generals broke out earlier this month. Although multiple ceasefires have been called, gunfire has continued regardless. According to the latest numbers from the World Health Organization, at least 420 people have died in Sudan since the violence broke out earlier this month. An American citizen died in the fighting on Thursday, the State Department said. 

The Pentagon had acknowledged that special operators had been moved into Djibouti to assist with the exit. The Defense Department also said it was on standby. 

"We deployed some forces into the theater to ensure that we provide as many options as possible if we are called on to do something, and we haven't been called on to do anything yet. No decision on anything has been made," Austin told reporters at a Friday news conference.    

The Sudanese Armed Forces posted to Facebook Friday that their General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan has received calls from the leaders of several countries to allow their citizens and diplomatic staff to evacuate. The post stated that al-Burhan has agreed to provide the necessary assistance, and that the evacuation of diplomats from the U.S., Britain, France, and China was expected to start immediately. 

RSF tweeted Friday that they were ready to partially open all airports for friendly countries who wish to evacuate their citizens. Khartoum International Airport has remained closed for several days, as is Sudan's border with neighboring Chad, according to the State Department. 

The Sudanese Armed Forces and RSF have been clashing since April 8, when al-Burhan dissolved a power-sharing council and announced his intention to hold elections this year. 

Until recently, the two groups were allies whose leadership had come together in 2019 to overthrow Sudan's brutal dictator Omar al-Bashir. The return to civilian rule comes with a decision over which general will be subordinate to the other. This decision sparked heavy fighting earlier this month and conditions in Sudan's cities have deteriorated.

— David Martin, Margaret Brennan, Christina Ruffini, Eleanor Watson, Haley Ott, and Caitlin Yilek contributed to this report. 

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