A convoy of 18 buses carrying several hundred U.S. citizens departed Khartoum on Friday as part of an organized effort to evacuate Americans from Sudan. The evacuees arrived at the coastal city of Port Sudan on Saturday, State Department officials said, and U.S. government officials are facilitating their onward journey by boat across the Red Sea to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
It’s the first organized effort by the U.S. to evacuate its civilians from the country amid clashes between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces.
A source linked to the evacuation tells CBS News over 500 civilians are being processed.
Security around the convoy has been described as “tight” and passengers were instructed not to use their cellphones. The 12-hour drive to the coast was confirmed to be under “top cover” protection, likely from U.S. military drones.
“The Secretary of Defense approved a request for assistance from the Department of State to support the safe departure of U.S. citizens and their immediate family members via overland,” Sabrina Singh, deputy Pentagon press secretary, said in a statement Saturday. “The Department of Defense deployed U.S. intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets to support air and land evacuation routes, which Americans are using, and we are moving naval assets within the region to provide any necessary support along the coast. Our focus has been and remains to help as many U.S. citizens depart as safely as possible.”
The convoy, carrying “U.S citizens, locally employed staff, and nationals from allied and partner countries,” arrived at Port Sudan on Saturday, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said. “From there, we are assisting U.S. citizens and others who are eligible with onward travel to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia where additional U.S. personnel are positioned to assist with consular and emergency services.”
The U.S. had faced questions about why it hadn’t organized evacuation efforts for civilians, while other countries, including Britain, Germany and France, did so. The U.S. evacuated its diplomats from the country and shuttered its embassy a week ago.
Before news of the evacuation efforts became public, Vedant Patel, a State Department spokesman, said Friday that the U.S. was “working to more actively determine ways in which we can offer support for overland routes to depart the country.”
When asked why the U.S. was not conducting evacuation efforts in the same way as other countries, Patel said it was working closely with its partners and “offering logistical support.”
“This is a collective and collaborative effort,” he said.
Patel said several hundred U.S. citizens, in addition to embassy personnel, had already departed Sudan by land, sea or aircraft since the conflict began.
On Monday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said “dozens” of Americans had expressed a desire to leave. But U.S. officials have declined to be more specific about how many Americans in Sudan want to depart.
More than 500 people have died in the fighting between forces controlled by Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who leads the Sudanese Armed Forces, and Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, who is in charge of the Rapid Support Forces paramilitary group, according to the World Health Organization.
A 72-hour ceasefire was extended for another three days Friday after more than a week of intense fighting.
Camilla Schick, Haley Ott and Ramy Inocencio contributed to this report.