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White House says it’s ‘not safe’ to evacuate civilians from Sudan

In this photo provided by Maheen S , smoke fills the sky in Khartoum, Sudan, near Doha International Hospital on Friday, April 21, 2023. (Maheen S via AP)

(CNN) — National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby defended the United States’ decision not to evacuate US citizens from Sudan after US forces conducted a military operation extracting government personnel from its embassy in Khartoum Saturday.

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.”

All US government employees were evacuated from Khartoum and the US embassy was “temporarily” closed 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 from Sudan safely, especially now that the US does not have a diplomatic presence there.

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.

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.

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.

He added that the Biden administration is “in touch with hundreds of American citizens that are there who may want to leave” while giving them information that they need and can rely on.

The State Department does not keep official counts of US citizens in foreign countries and Americans are not required to register when they go abroad. Officials told congressional staffers last week that there could be an estimated 16,000 American citizens in Sudan, most of whom are dual nationals.

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.