As fighting continues between two warring factions in Sudan, the U.S. military is deploying more troops and capabilities in the region to assist with possible evacuations for embassy staff.
According to Lt. Col. Phil Ventura, Department of Defense spokesperson, the movement represents U.S. Africa Command "conducting prudent planning for various contingencies."
A U.S. citizen has died amid the fighting in Sudan, a State Department spokesman confirmed on Thursday evening.
President Biden authorized the decision to pre-position forces, National Security spokesman John Kirby explained during Thursday’s White House briefing. He added the authorization came in the last couple of days and the pre-position is "in case there’s a need for evacuation."
"That so called cease-fire, that didn’t hold very long. So people are still being hurt," he said. "We have good accountability of all our government personnel there working in and out of the embassy ... they are still sheltering in place where they are."
Much of the fighting in Sudan has taken place in the heart of the capital city, as a struggle takes place between two military factions — the Sudanese army and the rival paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, who have worked together since the military coup in 2019 that stymied a transition to a democratic civilian government.
An initial framework for a deal was reached in December between the military and civilian groups. When it came time for the two forces to integrate, however, the cooperation broke down.
"Neither party was really ready to make some of the compromises that were being expected of them,” said Susan Stigant, director of Africa programs at the United States Institute of Peace. "So now the challenge ... is if you can get the fighting to stop, if the two leaders will accept. What does a process look like? What do talks look like that could actually get a pathway towards some sort of more stable and a civilian led government that Sudanese really fought so courageously and have paid with their lives for over the past four years and frankly, the three decades before that."
The World Health Organization reports at least 330 people have died and more than 3,000 have been injured. The agency also said more than a dozen hospitals, the majority in Sudan’s capital, were "reportedly non-functional due to attacks."
SEE MORE: US diplomats attacked as unrest continues in Sudan
Wednesday an NSC official on background told Scripps News that due to the uncertainty of the fighting and closure of the airport, Americans in the country should have no expectations of a government-coordinated evacuation. The official added the State Department has urged Americans not to travel to Sudan since last October.
An American Diplomatic convoy was under fire while in Sudan just days ago, but Kirby told reporters at the time "There’s no indication that either side is deliberately going after or trying to hurt or target Americans."
"It’s obviously a dangerous situation," he said. "And that’s a good example, of how even if there is not a deliberate targeting, somebody could still get hurt or killed."
On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to leaders on both sides to urge a 24-hour cease-fire. Despite reports of continued violence, and despite Blinken's earlier comments that the cease-fire "didn’t hold very long," the State Department's current view is that the cease-fire mostly held.
The State Department urges the military groups to extend it through Sunday.
"Our viewpoint also is that the 24-hour cease-fire that was announced on the 19th has mostly held, but we think that the extension of it is important for a number of reasons — allowing for the flow of necessary humanitarian materials, but also to ensure the safety of diplomatic personnel as well," said principal deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel.
Secretary Blinken "urged both military leaders to implement and uphold a nationwide ceasefire and sustain it through at least the end of Eid al-Fitr, Sunday, April 23," Patel said.
Patel said they’ve been in communication with U.S. citizens in the region about safety measures, but officials have not indicated government coordinated evacuations.
"Khartoum International Airport and Sudan’s border with Chad is closed. And due to the unfortunate and uncertain and very fluid security situation in Khartoum, and again because of the closure of the airport, it’s not safe to undertake a U.S. government-coordinated evacuation of private American citizens at this time," Patel said.
A department spokesperson told Scripps News they established a Sudan Military Conflict Task Force "to oversee the Department’s planning, management, and logistics related to events in Sudan" and a consular task force in D.C. "to communicate directly with U.S. citizens, provide them with the latest safety and security information, and request information from them to see how we can best assist."
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres tweeted that "humanitarian operations in Sudan are virtually impossible at this moment. Warehouses, vehicles and other humanitarian assets have been attacked, looted and seized."
Humanitarian operations in Sudan are virtually impossible at this moment.
Warehouses, vehicles and other humanitarian assets have been attacked, looted and seized.
Targeting humanitarian workers and humanitarian assets must end.
They are #NotATarget. pic.twitter.com/MYww7nHHQ1
— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) April 20, 2023
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