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- Private security contractors are being hired to evacuate Americans and other foreign nationals from Sudan.
- The US government has indicated it has no plans to assist with civilian evacuations.
- The escalating conflict is drawing comparisons to the 2021 American withdrawal from Afghanistan.
After the US said it would not be conducting missions to evacuate American citizens from conflict-torn Sudan — citing safety concerns — private companies are being contracted to take some paying citizens to safety.
Early Sunday morning in Sudan, American military forces, under the order of President Joe Biden, evacuated 70 staffers and their families from the US Embassy in Sudan as the country descended into violence over a power struggle between the country’s de facto leader and the head of a rival paramilitary group.
In a statement, Biden called for the violence in Sudan to end in an “immediate and unconditional ceasefire.” However, the US said on Friday it would not be evacuating the estimated 16,000 private US citizens that remain in the country.
“We have advised Americans to not travel to Sudan since August 2021, and the US embassy in Khartoum’s security alert on April 16th stated that due to the uncertain security situations in Khartoum and closure of the airport, Americans should have no expectation of a US government-coordinated evacuation at this time,” Vedant Patel, Principal Deputy spokesperson with the US State Department said in a press briefing on Friday. “It is imperative that US citizens in Sudan make their own arrangements to stay safe in these difficult circumstances.”
As a result, some citizens have taken it upon themselves to hire private security, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal.
Private security for hire
Dale Buckner, CEO of private security firm Global Guardian, told WSJ the company’s staff has escorted dozens of expatriates to neighboring countries — sometimes dodging gunfire, artillery, and mortar fire.
“Our rescue teams have to navigate dozens of checkpoints in an active war zone,” Buckner told WSJ. “We have hundreds of other clients waiting. But it’s increasingly getting dangerous.”
The Global Guardian team is made up of former military special operations and federal law enforcement personnel who provide international services, including asset protection, personal security, and evacuations from Sudan to Egypt and Eritrea over the past week. The company helped evacuate Ukrainian citizens at the onset of Russia’s invasion of the country.
Buckner himself is a 24-year US Army veteran with deployments including Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Colombia, Cuba, El Salvador, Chile, Panama, and Haiti.
In an interview with CNN, Buckner told Julia Chatterley that employees of Global Guardian reported armed paramilitary at various checkpoints, downed bridges, and airspace completely closed to civilian aircraft. After a scramble during the first 48 hours to get people to the neighboring countries of Egpyt and Eritrea, Buckner told CNN that the situation became more difficult for staff, who have to wait for temporary ceasefires to transport people out of the country.
Buckner told that the first few attempts at a ceasefire “fail because the people at the lowest level do not actually get that message.”
“You can imagine that is the risk here is that as you have forces on both sides deployed across the country, that at the lowest level that communicate is not get to them, and hence the fighting continues,” Buckner told CNN. “So there’s real risk here even with a formalized ceasefire, with that window of opportunity coming, that we could still see fighting.”
Buckner also said that transportation infrastructure, water sources, and hospitals were being targeted by the fighting.
“They’re fighting over what is the infrastructure of the country, that if they quote-unquote, win, now they can control the population,” Buckner told CNN.
Travel is made more difficult as a result of the shut-down airport in Khartoum, the country’s capital. Those trying to escape Sudan face treacherous roads that are difficult to access, long distances to the ocean, and neighboring countries that may be hostile to US citizens, like Eritrea, the Associated Press reported.
Cameron Hudson, a former chief of staff to the US special envoy for Sudan, criticized the failure to prepare for the possibility of conflict in the country, telling WSJ the US put faith in Sudan to have a peaceful transition of power following the 2021 coup, led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. General al-Burhan — now leading the country — promised to step down to allow Sudan to have a democratic election in 2023.
“The descent in violence happened so quickly because at the time they were talking to us, they were preparing for war,” Hudson told WSJ. “We were planning for success and ignored the possibility of conflict.”
Patel told reporters on Friday that the country has “not been naïve about the fraught security situation.”
“We have been clear-eyed about the kind of circumstances that we’re dealing with,” Patel told reporters.
Learning lessons from the Afghanistan withdrawal
The situation in Sudan brought swift comparisons to the Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021 — as people, desperate to flee the Taliban’s takeover, tried to cling to US military planes as they took off, ultimately falling to their deaths.
Insider previously reported that weeks before the catastrophe, Biden had publicly expressed confidence in the ability of the US-trained Afghan military to fend off the Taliban. Instead, the world watched on live TV as the Islamist militant group the US drove from power following the 2001 invasion retook control of the country.
The 2021 Afghanistan operation “demonstrated the consequences of failing to plan adequately for worst-case scenarios, mixed messaging by the State Department, unclear chains of command, the inadequate coordination between the State Department and the Department of Defense, and the failure to coordinate with private organizations evacuating American citizens,” House Foreign Affairs Chairman Michael McCaul of Texas said in a Friday statement regarding the Sudan conflict.
McCaul added: “Not wanting to repeat the mistakes of the Afghanistan evacuation, I seek clarification of several key issues necessary for a successful evacuation of American citizens in Sudan.”
But, despite leaders calling for clarification, the White House remains steadfast in its plan not to intervene on behalf of Americans caught in the Sudanese conflict.
“It is not our standard procedure to evacuate American citizens living abroad,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Friday. “Afghanistan was a unique situation for many reasons, including already hosting a significant military presence and ending a 20-year conflict. The Afghanistan evacuation was not the norm.”