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21 Apr, 2023 03:17

Pentagon preparing armed mission in Sudan

The African nation has been gripped by violent clashes amid a power struggle between the government and paramilitary forces
Pentagon preparing armed mission in Sudan

The US military has deployed additional troops and equipment to Africa to prepare for a possible evacuation of American personnel in Sudan, where fierce fighting has left hundreds dead and injured, the Associated Press and Politico reported on Thursday, citing officials. 

Troops have reportedly been moved to Camp Lemonnier, a US base in Djibouti, in anticipation of evacuating employees at the US Embassy in Khartoum. The embassy includes around 70 American staffers.

The security situation in Sudan has quickly deteriorated in recent days, with battles erupting between the country’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and the government last week amid a dispute over the formal integration of the RSF into Sudan’s military.

In a statement the Pentagon confirmed it had deployed additional “capabilities” in the region as part of “prudent planning for various contingencies,” but stopped short of confirming any upcoming operations, and did not specify where the troops would be stationed.

While National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said President Joe Biden had “authorized the military to move forward with pre-positioning forces and to develop options,” a decision to withdraw US diplomatic staff has not yet been made. 

Planning has reportedly been underway since Monday, when a US Embassy convoy came under attack by rebel gunmen, according to Secretary of State Antony Blinken. He noted that no Americans were harmed in the assault, while a department spokesman said the US envoy to Sudan, John Godfrey, was not present during the incident.

An evacuation mission would carry risks, as the airport in Khartoum is out of operation and some roads out of the city are under the control of militants. If a secure landing area cannot be located, the evacuees could be forced to make a 12-hour drive to Port Sudan on the Red Sea, more than 500 miles (800km) away from the capital, officials told AP.

The RSF played a major role in the 2019 ouster of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who had been in power for 30 years prior to the coup. A power-sharing deal was later struck with the rebels in order to transition back to a civilian-led government, including provisions requiring the RSF to officially merge with the armed forces. However, the militia has resisted integration with the army, reportedly due to disagreements over who should serve as commander in chief.

At least 270 people have been killed and more than 2,600 others injured in the fighting so far, the World Health Organization has estimated, citing Sudan’s Health Ministry. Though the warring parties agreed to a ceasefire deal on Tuesday, the violence has not abated, with renewed clashes reported just hours after the truce was announced.