May 28, 2024

Over 1,000 Americans evacuated from Sudan as conflict continues; experts warn of potential for regional war and terrorist infiltration

British citizens seen boarding an RAF aircraft in Sudan for evacuation to Cyprus.
British citizens seen boarding an RAF aircraft in Sudan for evacuation to Cyprus.

Over 1,000 Americans were evacuated from Sudan over the weekend, marking the first U.S.-led effort to evacuate private U.S. citizens since the outbreak of deadly fighting in the country two weeks ago. The evacuees arrived in Port Sudan, in eastern Sudan, on Saturday and Sunday in two separate convoys.

The U.S. State Department, along with its allies, has been assisting American citizens and others with eligible onward travel to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where additional U.S. personnel are available to offer consular and emergency services. The U.S. government has offered several departure options to its citizens, including partner country flights, international organization convoys, U.S. government-organized convoys, and sea departures. Buses, contracted by the U.S. government, carried 300 people to Port Sudan from the capital of Khartoum.

Meanwhile, Sudan’s ongoing conflict has killed over 400 people, leading to potential far-reaching consequences for regional peace and security. Sudan’s urban areas, such as Khartoum and Darfur, border Chad, which has experienced violent extremist non-state actor activities for the past decade, and the Central African Republic, thus exacerbating regional peace and security.

This conflict could result in the proliferation of small arms and light weapons among state entities in the region and a widening illegal arms trade, potentially creating new smuggling corridors, including from Libya in the northwest. The porous nature of the region’s borders further complicates matters, with contested spaces like Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Niger, and Nigeria being of particular concern.

This situation creates the danger of weapons falling into the wrong hands, including those of violent extremists. There is also the potential for foreign terrorist fighters to infiltrate the area, given the links of the Rapid Support Forces to the Janjaweed, a Sudanese Arab militia operating in Sudan’s Darfur region and eastern Chad, and rumored to operate in Yemen. The situation in Sudan is expected to deteriorate over the coming days, with the conflict having the potential to become a full-scale regional war. External state actors, such as China, France, and Russia, which maintain active interests in the Chad Basin and Sahel, could also become involved.

Of particular concern is the potential for Russia’s paramilitary Wagner Group to expand its footprint in the region. Wagner Group was involved in recruiting Chadian rebels and establishing a training site for 300 fighters in the Central African Republic in February.

The group’s expansion could exacerbate tensions across the region and embolden autocratic rulers keen to consolidate their hold on power, seeking help from entities such as the Wagner Group. The United Nations has said it is sending Humanitarian Affairs Chief Martin Griffiths to the region, where food, water, fuel, and other supplies are dwindling as the fighting continues.

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