WASHINGTON -- U.S. special operations forces carried out a precarious evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Sudan on Sunday, sweeping in and out of the capital with helicopters on the ground for less than an hour. No shots were fired and no major casualties were reported.
With the final embassy employee out of Khartoum, the United States shuttered its diplomatic mission indefinitely. Remaining behind in the East African nation are thousands of private American citizens. U.S. officials said it would be too dangerous to carry out a broader evacuation operation.
Battles between two rival Sudanese commanders had forced the closing of the main international airport and left roads out of the country in control of armed fighters. The skirmishes have killed more than 400 people.
In a statement thanking the troops, President Joe Biden said he was receiving regular reports from his team on efforts to assist remaining Americans in Sudan "to the extent possible."
He also called for the end to "unconscionable" violence there.
About 100 U.S. troops in three MH-47 helicopters carried out the operation. They airlifted all of roughly 70 remaining American employees from a landing zone at the embassy to an undisclosed location in Ethiopia.
Ethiopia also provided overflight and refueling support, said Molly Phee, assistant secretary of state for African affairs.
Biden said Djibouti and Saudi Arabia provided assistance, too.
"I am proud of the extraordinary commitment of our Embassy staff, who performed their duties with courage and professionalism and embodied America's friendship and connection with the people of Sudan," Biden said in a statement. "I am grateful for the unmatched skill of our service members who successfully brought them to safety."
U.S. Africa Command and the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, Gen. Mark Milley, were in contact with the factions before and during the operation to ensure that U.S. forces would have safe passage to conduct the evacuation. John Bass, an undersecretary of state, denied claims by Sudan's paramilitary Rapid Security Forces that it assisted in the U.S. evacuation.
"They cooperated to the extent that they did not fire on our service members in the course of the operation," Bass said.
Biden had ordered American troops to evacuate embassy personnel after receiving a recommendation from his national security team, with no end in sight to the fighting.
"This tragic violence in Sudan has already cost the lives of hundreds of innocent civilians. It's unconscionable and it must stop," Biden said. "The belligerent parties must implement an immediate and unconditional ceasefire, allow unhindered humanitarian access, and respect the will of the people of Sudan."
Sudan's fighting broke out April 15 between two commanders who just 18 months earlier jointly orchestrated a military coup to derail the nation's transition to democracy.
The power struggle between the armed forces chief, Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, and the head of the Rapid Support Forces paramilitary group, Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, has millions of Sudanese cowering inside their homes.
The violence has included an unprovoked attack on an American diplomatic convoy and numerous incidents in which foreign diplomats and aid workers were killed, injured or assaulted.
An estimated 16,000 private U.S. citizens are registered with the embassy as being in Sudan. The figure is rough because not all Americans register with embassy or say when they depart.
The embassy issued an alert earlier Saturday cautioning that "due to the uncertain security situation in Khartoum and closure of the airport, it is not currently safe to undertake a U.S. government-coordinated evacuation of private U.S. citizens."
The U.S. evacuation planning for American employees of the embassy got underway in earnest last Monday after the embassy convoy was attacked in Khartoum. The Pentagon confirmed on Friday that U.S. troops were being moved to Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti ahead of a possible evacuation.
Foreign governments evacuated diplomats, staff and others from Sudan on Sunday as rival generals battled for a ninth day with no sign of a truce that had been declared for a major Muslim holiday.
While world powers like the U.S. and Britain airlifted their diplomats from the capital of Khartoum, Sudanese desperately sought to flee the chaos. Many risked dangerous roads to cross the northern border into Egypt.
"My family -- my mother, my siblings and my nephews -- are on the road from Sudan to Cairo through Aswan," prominent Sudanese filmmaker Amjad Abual-Ala wrote on Facebook.
Fighting raged in Omdurman, a city across the Nile from Khartoum, residents said, despite a hoped-for cease-fire to coincide with the three-day Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr.
"We did not see such a truce," Amin al-Tayed said from his home near state TV headquarters in Omdurman, adding that heavy gunfire and thundering explosions rocked the city.
Over 420 people, including 264 civilians, have been killed and over 3,700 wounded in fighting between the Sudanese armed forces and the Rapid Support Forces.
The Rapid Support Forces said the armed forces unleashed airstrikes on the upscale neighborhood of Kafouri, north of Khartoum. There was no immediate army comment.
The ongoing violence has affected operations at the main international airport, destroying civilian planes and damaging at least one runway, and thick, black smoke rose above it. Other airports also have been knocked out of operation.
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell tweeted he had spoken with the rival commanders, urging an immediate cease-fire to protect civilians and the evacuation of EU citizens.
In other fighting, a senior military official said it repelled a Rapid Support Forces attack on Kober Prison in Khartoum where Sudan's longtime ruler, Omar al-Bashir, and former officials in his movement have been held since his 2019 ouster. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media, said a number of prisoners fled but al-Bashir and other high-profile inmates were in a "highly secure" area, adding that "a few prisoners" were killed or wounded.
The Rapid Support Forces claimed the military removed al-Bashir and other prisoners from the facility, although the statement could not be independently confirmed.
The Arqin border crossing with Egypt was crowded with about 30 passenger buses of at least 55 people each, said Suliman al-Kouni, an Egyptian student who fled northward from Khartoum with dozens of other students.
"We traveled 15 hours on land at our own risk," al-Kouni told The Associated Press by phone. "But many of our friends are still trapped in Sudan."
Sudan experienced a "near-total collapse" of internet and phone service Sunday, according to the monitoring service NetBlocks.
"It's possible that infrastructure has been damaged or sabotaged," said Netblocks director Alp Toker. "This will have a major effect on residents' ability to stay safe and will impact the evacuation programs that are ongoing."
France and Italy said they would accommodate all their citizens who want to leave, as well as those of other countries who could not otherwise join an evacuation operation.
French President Emmanuel Macron and his foreign minister were given security guarantees by both sides for the evacuation, according to Defense and Foreign Ministry officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to talk publicly. Two French flights took off Sunday from Khartoum to Djibouti, carrying about 200 people from various countries, and more were planned today, according to another French military official speaking anonymously under the same rules.
An Italian air force C-130 that left Khartoum with evacuees landed Sunday night at an air base in Djibouti, the Defense Ministry said. Another plane, carrying Italy's ambassador and military personnel involved in the evacuation, was expected in Djibouti later in the night.
About 100 people were flown out of Khartoum by Spanish military aircraft -- more than 30 Spaniards and the rest from Argentina, Colombia, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, Poland, Portugal and Venezuela, the foreign ministry said.
Officials in Jordan said four planes landed at Amman military airport carrying 343 Jordanian evacuees from Port Sudan.
Other flights from Sudan were organized by Germany, Greece and the Netherlands.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak tweeted that U.K. armed forces evacuated British diplomatic staff and dependents "amid a significant escalation in violence and threats."
Information for this article was contributed by Matthew Lee, Tara Copp, Aamer Madhani, Isabel DeBre, Samy Magdy, Michael Corder, Angela Charlton, Frances D'Emilio and Fay Abuelgasim of The Associated Press.