The Biden administration is defending the State Department’s decision to evacuate embassy personnel from Sudan while taking limited steps to aid thousands of Americans thought to still be in the country.
U.S. special forces evacuated the U.S. embassy in Khartoum, Sudan, on Saturday as the country edges toward civil war. Violence across the country is believed to have taken hundreds of lives and left thousands more wounded in a power struggle between Sudan’s two top military leaders.
The U.S. Department of State has estimated that 16,000 Americans remain in Sudan, but the government does not have a firm count because Americans living or traveling abroad are not required to check in with or otherwise make their plans known to the U.S. government.
“We never know with any precision how many Americans may be there at any given time because Americans are not required to register with the embassy, with the government either when they go, when they reside, or when they leave,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a Monday press conference.
National security spokesman John Kirby echoed Blinken’s comments on network shows on Monday. “That number is an estimate. We don’t have great confidence in that number precisely,” Kirby told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos.
The State Department has said it has refrained from launching broader evacuation efforts for Americans in Sudan because of the region’s instability.
Fighting between the Sudanese Armed Forces, led by Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and the Rapid Support Forces paramilitary group, led by Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, has primarily been centered in Khartoum and has caused a breakdown in civil order in the city. Numerous businesses and other operations, including the city’s airport, have shuttered while soldiers, militias, and gangs control the streets.
Blinken said that the State Department is in touch with “dozens” of Americans in Sudan who have expressed interest in leaving the country.
“Even with the withdrawal of embassy personnel from Sudan, our efforts to provide services to American citizens who are there, consular services, other services, advice, continues, and we’re in regular communication with American citizens,” Blinken said. “We are looking to see how we can help them ensure their own safety. We have been working with allies and partners to do as much as we can to enable them to find their way out, if that’s what they choose to do.”
Blinken said that many Americans currently in Sudan are dual citizens who do not want to leave the country despite its deteriorating conditions.
“The overwhelming majority of Americans citizens in Sudan are dual nationals who made their lives there, who have been living there for years, decades, for generations, and many want to continue to do that,” he said. “But for those who are seeking to leave, we will continue to engage directly with them to see what we can do to help them, and, like I said, with allies and partners as well to help facilitate their departure.”