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In Sudan, efforts are underway to evacuate thousands of international workers

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Intense fighting between warring factions in Sudan continues in the capital and at its airport. Isma'il Kushkush is a Sudanese American journalist who managed to get this voice message to NPR while he was trapped inside a building in Khartoum.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ISMA'IL KUSHKUSH: We are in the middle between the gunfire on both sides. We think they haven't stormed the building yet because there are several internationals in the building, but we just don't know how things are going to go. There's also jet fighters, and we fear that mistakenly, a missile could hit the building. There are four children in the building and a few elderly in the building. But that's the situation we are at the moment.

SIMON: Yet the Sudanese army says the U.S. and other countries are ready to begin evacuations of their embassy personnel. NPR's Jackie Northam joins us. Jackie, thanks for being with us.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: There are these reports that Western nations, including the U.S., will soon begin to evacuate their embassies. That seem credible to you?

NORTHAM: Well, the army is just one of the combatants here, and it is not in full control of Sudan. There's still fighting in Khartoum, including at its main airport. Saudi Arabia was able to get its citizens out today. So we'll see how it plays out during the day for Western nations.

SIMON: How many Americans are in Sudan? And are civilians included in their evacuation plans?

NORTHAM: There's about 70 Americans at the embassy in Khartoum, and about 16,000 U.S. citizens are believed to be there. Many of those are dual nationals. You know, the State Department says U.S. citizens are not part of any evacuation plans and that they will have to make their own arrangements to stay safe. The State Department sent out travel advisories over the past couple of weeks saying, do not travel to Sudan - or leave if you're already in the country. And the State Department and the White House said Friday that it is not standard practice to evacuate civilians abroad, especially in these circumstances when they've been given plenty of warning. So American citizens currently in Sudan are on their own.

SIMON: Is there U.S. guidance to all those Americans who apparently won't be evacuated?

NORTHAM: Yes, there is. Stay off the roads. Stay indoors. Shelter in place. Do not try to make it to the U.S. Embassy.

SIMON: If the airports are unusable, how would the U.S. plan to pull people out of Sudan in any case?

NORTHAM: Neither the Pentagon nor the State Department are saying what options they're looking at. You know, I spoke with Cameron Hudson, and he's a former diplomat who focused on Sudan, and now he's with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. And he told me if they can get a sustained cease-fire, then there could be an overland convoy to, say, Egypt. The other option, he says, would be for the U.S. to use a Sudanese military air base to land a plane and deploy a helicopter. Let's listen to what he says here.

CAMERON HUDSON: And that that helicopter would be able to land on the embassy compound. There's a big grassy area in the middle of the compound, so you could probably do it.

NORTHAM: But, you know, Scott, Hudson says the optics of just taking embassy people to safety aren't great, you know, leaving others behind. There's also the problem if something goes wrong. You know, people remember that chaotic evacuation from Afghanistan in 2021. So really, the best thing would be a cease-fire.

SIMON: NPR's Jackie Northam, thanks so much.

NORTHAM: Thanks, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.