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Dozens of U.S. embassy staffers have been airlifted out of Sudan's capital

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

I've been...

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Yes.

INSKEEP: ...Away a few days. I have heard about the clashes in Sudan. But can you catch me up on why armed groups are fighting there?

MARTÍNEZ: Sure. Yeah. It goes back a few years. Essentially, the country has two armed forces. One is the regular army; the other is a paramilitary group called the Rapid Support Forces. They worked together in a military coup a couple years ago, but now they disagree over a plan to merge them, part of a transition to civilian rule. So the paramilitary forces, the RSF, they're attacking the government, which is why we've been watching efforts to evacuate diplomats and others who want out.

INSKEEP: OK. Thanks for the basics. So now we're ready for an update from NPR's Emmanuel Akinwotu, who's been covering this from his base in Lagos. Welcome back.

EMMANUEL AKINWOTU, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: All right. U.S. Embassy staff have been airlifted out of Khartoum, the capital. What about other Americans?

AKINWOTU: Well, there are about 16,000 Americans registered in Sudan. The State Department says it's assisting the citizens who are trying to flee, we think, largely with up-to-date information and advice on routes out of Khartoum and the country. And we're seeing other countries - many other countries - ramp up their evacuations. Many people, especially foreign nationals, are trying to get to Port Sudan on the Red Sea. That's a transit point out of the country. But many of them have to get there on their own. The U.S. evacuations we saw this weekend were for government staff and their families, about under a hundred people who were airlifted out of Khartoum. It was a very precarious operation overnight by U.S. military, of course, in the midst of this ongoing conflict.

INSKEEP: You mentioned people going to Port Sudan, which is, of course, on the water, which Khartoum, the capital, is not. Airlines are not an option at this point or any kind of civilian or military flights out of that Khartoum airport? Do people have to go over land to get out?

AKINWOTU: Yes. Flights are not an option. The airspace is shut. And so that is not an option for people who are trying to leave the country right now.

INSKEEP: OK. So people who get out of Khartoum have to go over land. Countries are evacuating their staff in various ways that they can. How are people feeling who are left behind?

AKINWOTU: Everyone who can is trying to leave the capital, Khartoum. That's the epicenter of this awful conflict. But there are also complicated feelings. You know, with these evacuations and the closure of a number of foreign embassies, there's clearly this fear that, at a perilous moment, countries are retreating from Sudan. And these are countries like the UAE, Saudi Arabia and others who backed the transition and trusted these warring parties to give up power for a democratic process. And, of course, this process has completely unraveled with neither the Army or the RSF backing down.

What we know at the moment is about 400 people at least have been killed, thousands injured, according to the U.N. It's been just over a week since this conflict erupted, and the speed of collapse has been shocking. The health system has been hit hard. At least 11 facilities have been attacked. Most have shut down. People are either sheltering at home with no power, running out of food or trying to leave. You know, many resistance groups, community groups are helping people trying to escape. Twenty thousand people have fled to Chad. The internet coverage in Sudan has dropped to just a few percent of normal levels. So our sense of what's happening in the country is diminishing. And, of course, there's no sign of a cease-fire between the two warring parties.

INSKEEP: Yeah. And when you talk about complicated feelings, I'm imagining those 16,000 U.S. citizens, many of them, of course, would have family connections, close connections. They've built their lives in Sudan. It would be hard to walk away. But is there danger of a full-scale civil war here?

AKINWOTU: You know, there are a number of international actors, local militia that have a stake in this. So far, this is not a civil war. But the longer this goes on, there's the danger that it could become one.

INSKEEP: NPR's Emmanuel Akinwotu, pleasure to talk with you. Thank you so much.

AKINWOTU: Thanks, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Emmanuel Akinwotu
Emmanuel Akinwotu is an international correspondent for NPR. He joined NPR in 2022 from The Guardian, where he was West Africa correspondent.