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U.S. makes evacuation plans to get embassy staff, but not all Americans, out of Sudan


Sudan's army has agreed to a three-day truce to fighting in and around the capital city, Khartoum. Earlier cease-fires between the army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces over the past week have quickly collapsed, and there are signs this one may collapse as well. The U.S. is drawing up evacuation plans to get its embassy staff out of the country if the situation deteriorates further. The plans do not include American civilians. NPR's Jackie Northam reports.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Fierce fighting between Sudan's warring factions has left hundreds of people dead. There are an increasing number of attacks against Westerners, U.N. personnel, aid workers and diplomats. The State Department is sending out warnings to U.S. citizens in Sudan. Here's spokesperson Vedant Patel.


VEDANT PATEL: We have been very clear about the need to - for American citizens to remain indoors, to stay off the roads, to shelter in place and to avoid traveling to the U.S. embassy at this time.

NORTHAM: The State Department has set up a conflict task force for Sudan to deal with the crisis. That includes planning for an evacuation. It's been coordinating with the Pentagon, which has deployed more forces to nearby Djibouti. How to get embassy staff out is the issue. One option, if the cease-fire holds, is to arrange a convoy to go overland to Egypt. Another is by helicopter off the top of the embassy.

CAMERON HUDSON: This administration cannot have another botched American evacuation.

NORTHAM: Cameron Hudson is an East Africa specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former diplomat who covered Sudan. He says the specter of the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021 looms large, and the administration wants to make sure that doesn't happen again.

HUDSON: I think that there's a lot of domestic politics at play here, right? Nobody in the department wants a situation where we actually have an American embassy itself under siege. And if one American diplomat dies in this country, then there's going to be, you know, serious hell to pay, and I think that the Biden administration understands that.

NORTHAM: The administration has also made clear that its focus is on embassy staff, and U.S. citizens will have to make their own arrangements. National security spokesperson John Kirby says the State Department has sent out numerous advisories telling American citizens not to travel to Sudan or to get out if they're already there.


JOHN KIRBY: It is not standard practice for the United States to evacuate all American citizens living abroad. And again, given all the warnings that we have provided, there should be no expectation that the United States would be able to facilitate an evacuation using either military or commercial aircraft in a potentially nonpermissive environment.

NORTHAM: There's an estimated 16,000 American citizens in Sudan, and the situation is growing desperate. There are shortages of food and water, and the security situation is increasingly precarious. Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAHALIA SONG, "LETTER TO UR EX") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.