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The U.S. has evacuated embassy staff from Sudan

ADRIAN FLORIDO, HOST:

An exodus of foreign nationals from Sudan is currently underway from the country's capital, Khartoum. Last night, President Biden confirmed that all American government personnel and their families had been rescued from the U.S. Embassy. And while that evacuation is over, other U.S. citizens and thousands of Sudanese are trying to flee the fighting. Over 20,000 have crossed the border from the Darfur region in the west to the neighboring country of Chad in the past week. NPR international affairs correspondent Jackie Northam has the latest. Hi, Jackie.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Hi, Adrian.

FLORIDO: Before we turn to the bigger picture, can you just tell us a bit more about the evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum?

NORTHAM: Yeah. This was a mission involving special operations, Navy SEALs. It took place early morning Sudan time. And about 70 U.S. government workers, embassy personnel and their families, as well as a couple diplomats from other missions, were airlifted from the embassy, and it took about an hour, all told. The choppers had flown some 800 miles from Djibouti for this operation and then back again. So it was a long day. Lieutenant General D.A. Sims - he's the director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff - he indicated that it was a dangerous mission.

D A SIMS: Any time you're flying, you know, at a hundred knots, very close to the ground in pitch black, there's certainly some risk there.

NORTHAM: And, Adrian, it was important to the Biden administration to get this evacuation right, especially after the chaotic and deadly evacuation from Afghanistan in 2021.

FLORIDO: Yeah. So the U.S. has its embassy staff and government workers out of Sudan. What about other U.S. citizens? We understand there were about 16,000 in the country.

NORTHAM: Yes. That's right. Most are dual citizens, Sudanese Americans. The State Department released an advisory letting them know that the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum has suspended its operation and that there are no further evacuations planned in the near future because of the security situation and the airport being inoperable. The State Department warned once again, as they have for weeks, that Americans should not travel to Sudan, and they've been telling U.S. citizens already there to find shelter and stay in place. We're hearing that many U.S. citizens have joined the throngs of people trying to leave over land, but it is a highly dangerous journey. And the State Department says it's trying to get information to any Americans who are on the road about security conditions or routes that might be more dangerous.

FLORIDO: Jackie, why is Sudan so strategically important to the U.S.?

NORTHAM: There are a lot of reasons. I mean, geographically, it's very important. Sudan is at crossroads between North and sub-Saharan Africa and also between the Middle East and Africa. It's engaged with the Horn of Africa. It's by the Nile River and has access to the Red Sea. And it's rich in natural resources. The Wagner group has gold concessions there, and that's the Russian group that's got a lot of attention lately for its mercenary forces in Ukraine. So, Adrian, Sudan attracts the interest of many countries, and the fear is that a civil war there could pull in many players and really make the whole region unstable.

FLORIDO: Well, it's been more than a week since the intense fighting in Khartoum and other parts of Sudan started. Are there still efforts underway to get a cease-fire in place?

NORTHAM: Yes. Yeah. The U.S. is still working on it, as is the UN and many other countries. But, you know, early ones have quickly broken, and the fighting is intense, you know, as these two sides, the Sudanese army and the paramilitary group, the Rapid Support Forces, you know, duke it out to try to gain supremacy. And in the meantime, hundreds of people have died. The country's health care system has pretty much collapsed, and there are shortages of food and water and electricity. It's a terrible situation.

FLORIDO: That's NPR international affairs correspondent Jackie Northam. Jackie, thanks for covering the story for us.

NORTHAM: Thank you very much. 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.