Article published in The Daily Express, 23 April 2023. © Richard Kemp
On Saturday night, British embassy staff and their families were flown out of Sudan from an airport near Khartoum, in an operation mounted by 1,200 British troops from 16th Air Assault Brigade, the Royal Marines and the RAF.
That still leaves several hundred British citizens in the country, including aid workers.
They may not be deliberately targeted for attack, but in what has rapidly descended into a violent and highly volatile zone, all of them are in great danger.
Many live near the airport at Khartoum, the scene of some of the worst fighting. As well as shelling, gunfire and air strikes, we have seen random violence, looting and vicious assaults on the streets of the capital, as well as elsewhere in the country. On top of that there are growing food and water shortages.
Although the Government was right to close the embassy and evacuate diplomats, who could do nothing to help British citizens in this situation, those who remain will be feeling isolated and abandoned.
The Sudanese government is not in a position to assist them and the internet, pretty much their only lifeline for advice and information, is precarious and often blacked out. That is likely to worsen.
In London, Cobra, the UK crisis management committee that co-ordinated the embassy withdrawal, will be actively monitoring the situation and considering options for a further evacuation. British diplomats and intelligence staff in the region will be using their contacts in Sudan to identify potential opportunities.
It is likely the military forces involved in pulling out embassy staff will remain on standby to give further assistance if and when possible. Special forces are also likely to be poised in the region to mount a specific rescue operation if British citizens are taken hostage.
All of this, as was Saturday night’s operation, will be co-ordinated with the US and other allies who have citizens still in the country. But any further plan to evacuate citizens around the country would be fraught with difficulties.
Although the withdrawal of both British and US diplomats appears to have been executed without a hitch, the dangers are illustrated by reports that French and Qatari evacuation convoys came under attack from one or other of the warring factions.
Even though the Sudanese army and the rebels have assured safe passage for foreign nationals, neither side will be in full control of the military units, militias and armed mobs rampaging the streets.
Image: Khartoum Airport (Wikimedia Commons)