(CNN) — “Dozens” of Americans have expressed interest in leaving Sudan, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday.
Although a number of nations are evacuating their citizens, US officials have repeatedly said they do not plan to evacuate Americans from the country due to conditions on the ground.
National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told CNN’s “This Morning” Monday the situation in Sudan “is not conducive and not safe to try to conduct some kind of a larger military evacuation of American citizens.”
The United States does not have specific counts of how many Americans are in Sudan, the top US diplomat said, “because Americans are not required to register” with the US State Department.
“We do know of course the number of Americans who have registered with us, and with whom we’re in very active touch, communication. Of those, I would say some dozens have expressed an interest in leaving,” Blinken said at a press conference at the State Department.
All US government employees were evacuated from Khartoum in a US military operation and the US embassy was “temporarily” closed this weekend after a week of heavy fighting between rival military factions — the Sudanese Armed Forces, or SAF, and the Rapid Support Forces, or RSF — which has left hundreds dead and thousands wounded.
In the days leading up to that evacuation, officials in Washington and the US Embassy in Khartoum repeatedly stressed that they did not envision carrying out a government-coordinated evacuation of American citizens due to the lack of an operational airport and the ongoing fighting on the ground.
Still, there are worries about how to get Americans who wish to depart out of Sudan safely, especially now that the US does not have a diplomatic presence there. Although the US State Department warned US citizens against traveling to Sudan, some Americans with loved ones in the country suggested that the government had not done enough to advise Americans already in the country to leave.
There is immense concern about the safety of those still in the country, regardless of their nationality, given the ongoing violence and its impact on critical resources like food, water and medical care. Internet connectivity has also been unreliable, leaving family members and friends outside of Sudan to worry if their loved ones are safe.
The US government typically does not facilitate evacuations for regular citizens, and the US withdrawal from Afghanistan presented a rare — and chaotic — exception to that norm. Although the Biden administration has sought to avoid comparisons to that event, “Kabul casts a very long shadow over Khartoum,” in the words of one former official.
‘Awful holding pattern’
Rebecca Winter, whose sister and 18-month-old niece are in Sudan, told CNN that they are in an “awful holding pattern” because her sister “has been told by both the US embassy and the international school that she works for that she has to shelter in place, and that she should not accept any offers for private evacuation.”
“So she is just stuck waiting right now in fear,” she said.
Although the US State Department warned Americans against traveling to Sudan, Winter said that according to her sister, “US employees there were not asked to leave the country.”
Fatima Elsheikh, whose two brothers are in Sudan, also pushed back on the claim that US citizens who were already on the ground were warned before the outbreak of violence.
“It makes me upset, because there was no warning. I don’t, I think it’s being painted as a country that’s been war-torn for a while, which isn’t true. This is unprecedented, what’s happening,” she said.
The State Department travel advisory for Sudan prior to the outbreak of violence did not specifically tell Americans already in the country to leave, but advised them to “have evacuation plans that do not rely on U.S. government assistance” and “have a personal emergency action plan that does not rely on U.S. government assistance.”
Blinken said Monday that the US continues to be in touch with American citizens on the ground to provide “consular services, other services, advice.”
“In just the last 36 hours since the embassy evacuation was completed, we’ve continued to be in close communication with US citizens and individuals affiliated with the US government to provide assistance and facilitate available departure routes for those seeking to move to safety via land, air and sea,” said Blinken, noting that included American citizens “traveling overland in the UN convoy from Khartoum to Port Sudan.”
“We are looking to see how we can help them ensure their own safety,” he said.
“This is going to be an ongoing process,” he added. Blinken said the US is looking at resuming its diplomatic presence in Sudan, including in Port Sudan, but “that’s going to be entirely dependent on the conditions in Sudan.”
Kirby said Monday that the violence in Sudan “is increasing,” and urged Americans remaining in the country to shelter in place.
“It’s more dangerous today than it was just yesterday, the day before, and so, the best advice we can give to those Americans who did not abide by our warnings to leave Sudan and not to travel to Sudan is to stay sheltered in place,” Kirby told CNN’s Don Lemon.
“We are doing what we can to help guide people who can move out to get out to potentially land convoys that are moving — in fact, there are several dozen Americans that we know of, that are in a UN-led convoy that’s making its way to Port Sudan overground,” he said.
Blinken said that “some of the convoys that have tried to move people out” of Khartoum “have encountered problems, including robbery, looting, that kind of thing,” but did not specify whether those convoys were carrying US citizens.
Kirby said the US is focusing on providing unmanned aerial assets over land convoy to provide “some sort of situational awareness and overwatch” for civilians traveling to the port, while the military is stationing naval assets in the Red Sea for transportation.
Officials told congressional staffers last week that there could be an estimated 16,000 American citizens in Sudan, most of whom are dual nationals.
Both Blinken and Kirby echoed this on Monday and suggested that many of those dual nationals “don’t want to leave” the country.
“We think the vast majority of these American citizens in Sudan, and they’re not all in Khartoum, are dual nationals — these are people who grew up in Sudan, who have families, their work, their businesses there, who don’t want to leave,” he said.
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