WASHINGTON – The United States military airlifted embassy officials out of Khartoum, capital of Sudan, amid continuing violence as rival military leaders battled for control of Africa’s third-largest country, President Joe Biden said on Saturday.
“Today, on my orders, the United States military conducted an operation to extract US government personnel from Khartoum,” he added.
A US official familiar with the matter said the military airlifted about 70 embassy employees using helicopters and V-22 Ospreys – a plane that can take off and land vertically – from a site near the embassy after sundown. The Navy’s Seal Team 6 special force was involved, the official added.
The move came on the eighth day of brutal fighting in the capital and other parts of the country between the army and a paramilitary group called the Rapid Support Forces, whose leaders are vying for supremacy in Sudan.
With the airport in the capital badly damaged by shelling and the country’s airspace closed, the evacuation was a daring move. The Pentagon positioned more troops in recent days in the nearby nation of Djibouti, where the US military has a base, to prepare for a rescue.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said using an airlift was deemed necessary because the alternative – a convoy through the city to its airport which had been the scene of heavy fighting – was seen as too dangerous.
Mr Biden thanked Djibouti, Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia, saying they were critical to the success of the operation.
“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,” he added.
“I am grateful for the unmatched skill of our service members who successfully brought them to safety.”
The announcement capped a day of confusion after Sudan’s military chief vowed to help relocate nationals of several countries including the United States. But the American embassy said at the time that it was too dangerous to evacuate.
At least 400 people have been killed in the clashes and 3,500 injured, according to the United Nations. They include at least 256 civilians who died and 1,454 who were wounded, according to a doctors union. NYTIMES