Biden administration asks U.S. citizens to leave Ethiopia right now ‘while commercial flight options are available’ as war rages

The official insisted that American citizens should leave now while "the security situation permits them to do so safely and while flights are available," because the security conditions can deteriorate quickly and unpredictably. 

U.S. citizens in Ethiopia should leave the country now while commercial flights are still available, the Biden administration said on Tuesday, as fighters from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and their allies continue to advance toward Addis Ababa, the capital.

Two senior state department officials told reporters during a telephonic briefing from Washington D.C. that the security situation in Addis has remained fairly consistent over the last several days and American citizens should leave immediately.

“You have heard us say this many times, but it bears repeating: We have no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas. That’s why we are urging U.S. citizens to leave Ethiopia now, while commercial flight options are available, even as we continue to engage in intensive diplomacy and work with partners in the region, including the AU, to urge all parties to end the military conflict, cease hostilities, and enter into negotiations, as my colleague will elaborate on,” said senior state department one. “We have seen that the security situation in Addis has remained fairly consistent over the last several days, and we are concerned that some U.S. citizens may be monitoring current conditions and concluding that it is safe to stay.  But our recommendation remains the same:  Leave now.”

Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia 

The official insisted that American citizens should leave now while “the security situation permits them to do so safely and while flights are available,” because the security conditions can deteriorate quickly and unpredictably. 

The official added, “Even if flights remain available, it can become dangerous to move to the airport.  Don’t put yourself or your family at risk by waiting.  Second, do not wait until the situation gets worse to decide to leave.  Leave before things change, because they can change in an instant and flight options could disappear,” the official added.

“Department of State personnel go to great lengths to assist U.S. citizens in crisis, as long as it is safe to do so.  However, the U.S. embassy is unlikely to be able to assist U.S. citizens in Ethiopia with departure if commercial options become unavailable.  There are no plans to fly the U.S. military into Ethiopia to facilitate evacuations or replicate the contingency effort we recently undertook in Afghanistan, which was a unique situation for many reasons, and there should be no expectation, particularly after we have issued so many warnings that advise departing immediately, that the U.S. will be able to facilitate evacuation via military or commercial aircraft in a non-permissive environment, including Ethiopia. 

“Between May 20th and November 11th, the U.S. Embassy in Addis has released 16 security alerts urging U.S. citizens in Ethiopia to depart now using commercially available flights and four travel advisories urging Americans to avoid traveling to Ethiopia.  Since November 5th, the embassy has sent roughly one message each day urging U.S. citizens to depart while commercial options exist, informing the public of available flight options, and offering any necessary support.  We are working to ensure wide distribution of these messages to U.S. citizens in Ethiopia, as well as the Ethiopian diaspora community in the United States, contacting Americans who we know are in the country, issuing messages on the embassy website, on travel.state.gov, and posting on the embassy Facebook page and social media platforms. 

“The department and U.S. Embassy Addis will continue to provide information to U.S. citizens as we monitor commercial flight availability closely.  The U.S. embassy’s consular section remains open at this time to assist U.S. citizens.  We have expanded service hours so we are providing appointments for passports and other U.S. citizen services seven days a week for those preparing to depart, and are expediting the processing of emergency passports and visas.  We are processing repatriation loans for those U.S. citizens who cannot afford a commercial flight back to the United States.  We can provide those services now, but we cannot predict when and if conditions might change.  As we’ve seen recently, changes in the security situation can have an impact on embassy operations.  Again, now is the time to reach out to the embassy for departure assistance.

“To wrap up, I’d like to recommend several actions that U.S. citizens in Ethiopia should take now.  Leave now, while commercial flights are still available and while it is safe to do so.  Enroll in our Smart Traveler Enrollment Program to get the latest information directly from the embassy.  Do not assume that the security situation will stay the same.  Monitor local conditions carefully.  Have a plan for departure that does not rely upon U.S. Government assistance.

“If you decide to remain in Ethiopia, develop a plan to shelter in place safely.  Contact the embassy now if you need assistance in leaving and encourage your family members and friends still in Ethiopia to do the same.”

TIGRAYAN FORCES 

The senior state department official two noted that “Americans, Ethiopians, all those currently resident in Ethiopia will not be safe, however, until the fighting stops.”

The official added, “The United States remains fully engaged in doing everything we can to get a cessation of hostilities, just as we’ve been doing since the beginning of the conflict. We have repeatedly urged all parties to move away from the disastrous military conflict, to use restraint, end hostilities, respect human rights, refrain from hostile rhetoric, protect civilians, and allow humanitarian access. 

“We’ve engaged in intensive and focused diplomacy for months.  And in March, President Biden dispatched Senator Chris Coons as his special emissary to Ethiopia, and then the administration appointed Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman as the Special Envoy to the Horn of Africa in April.  Both the President and Vice President have been personally engaged with leaders on the continent to help address the current crisis, and President Biden rallied our democratic partners at the G7 to focus on this issue.

“Secretary Blinken has engaged with Prime Minister Abiy several times, including in recent weeks, and has similarly been in touch with leaders across the region and beyond with a focus on urging the parties to the negotiation table.  Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield has also consistently worked the issue with her UN counterparts and USAID Administrator Samantha Power has similarly engaged with the international community and traveled to the region to press for unhindered humanitarian access.

“Our focus remains clear: an immediate cessation of hostilities without preconditions; access for all those in need, regardless of ethnicity or geography, to lifesaving humanitarian assistance; and an immediate end to human rights abuses and violations.  We welcome the leadership and diplomatic efforts of AU High Representative Obasanjo towards these ends and urge the Government of Ethiopia and the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, or TPLF, to seize the opportunity to negotiate a cessation of hostilities without preconditions and commit to unhindered humanitarian access.

“In recent months, President Biden announced a sanctions regime that authorized the United States to sanction all parties in the conflict, including the TPLF, the Eritrean Government, the Ethiopian Government, and regional authorities – any party who is found to be prolonging the crisis.  The first sanctions under this regime were announced a few days ago, focused on Eritrean targets.  Although recent designations are directed at the Eritrean Government and the ruling party, the United States remains gravely concerned about the conduct of all parties to the conflict. 

“We are not imposing sanctions at this time on elements aligned with the Government of Ethiopia and the TPLF to allow time and space to see if the current talks can make progress.  If the parties fail to make meaningful progress, the United States stands ready to pursue additional sanctions, including against the Government of Ethiopia, regional authorities, and the TPLF.

“Finally, and turning back to the reason for this briefing, let me echo my colleague and reiterate that our embassy and, of course, the consular section in Addis Ababa remain open under the leadership of our ambassador.  For all American citizens, now is the time to consider his or her own situation and, if necessary, to contact our consular colleagues in Addis Ababa.”

Chief White House Correspondent for

Simon Ateba is Chief White House Correspondent for Today News Africa. Simon covers President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, the U.S. government, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions in Washington D.C. and New York City.

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