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Harrowing tales from Sudan-stranded Brits who plead with UK to ramp up rescue mission

NewsHarrowing tales from Sudan-stranded Brits who plead with UK to ramp up rescue mission

UK armed forces have completed evacuation of British diplomats from Sudan

In a dramatic rescue ­mission, SAS forces evacuated British diplomats and their families as ­fighting raged around them in war-torn Sudan. The elite unit is understood to have joined the RAF and the Royal Marines in “a complex and rapid evacuation” from Khartoum after airstrikes left the capital city without running water and electricity.

Hundreds of people have been killed in a brutal conflict between the Sudanese army and a paramilitary group known as the Rapid Support Forces.

British citizens who remain trapped amid the escalating violence have pleaded for the Government not to abandon them.

Rishi Sunak yesterday pledged to pursue “every avenue to end the bloodshed in Sudan” and ensure the safety of those still remaining there.

The Prime Minister said: “UK armed forces have completed a complex and rapid evacuation of British diplomats and their families from Sudan, amid a significant escalation in violence and threats to embassy staff.

“I pay tribute to the commitment of our diplomats and bravery of the military personnel who carried out this difficult operation.

“We are continuing to pursue every avenue to end the bloodshed in Sudan and ensure the safety of British nationals remaining in the country.

“I urge the parties to lay down their arms and implement an immediate humanitarian ceasefire to ensure civilians can leave ­conflict zones.”

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the operation involved more than 1,200 personnel from the British Army, Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force.

British citizens trapped amid the escalating violence are still waiting to be rescued

British citizens trapped amid the escalating violence are still waiting to be rescued (Image: Getty)

He said: “The UK Armed Forces undertook a military operation alongside the United States, France and other allies.

“They have evacuated British Embassy staff and their dependants from Khartoum due to the escalating threats against diplomats.”

Military sources said the SAS were involved, but Britain has a policy of not confirming the presence of special forces.

But the many Britons left behind face a dire situation. Densely populated areas in the capital have seen the heaviest fighting, including gun battles and the use of tanks.

Khartoum’s 5.4 million residents have been badly affected because many targets, such as military headquarters and the presidential palace, are close to residential areas.

Explosions have hit key infrastructure and civilians have been left without running water and electricity.

Hospitals have also been targeted, leaving health professionals struggling to cope with the thousands of people who have been injured since the conflict began.

Two ceasefires have been announced but both collapsed as fighting continued between the warring factions.

A convoy leaving Khartoum towards Port Sudan

A convoy leaving Khartoum towards Port Sudan (Image: Getty)

A British-Sudanese woman described “the most harrowing experience of my life” as she spent six hours hiding under a bed with her terrified family without water.

Rozan Ahmed has pleaded to the British authorities for help, asking: “If there is no plan to get me out, please tell me why?”

Ms Ahmed, who travelled to Sudan to attend her cousin’s funeral nine days ago, said: “I have been hiding under my bed for the last six hours, the area where I stay has been shelled to shreds. I have heard nothing but explosions and gunfire, and shelling screams for the past six hours. Only now has it died down.

“On top of that we have to deal with the fact that there are rogue soldiers walking around our streets, randomly raiding our homes, and then we don’t have water.”

The writer and activist, who lives in London and Dubai, described how the attacks had been constant for the past week after the violence broke out on April 15.

She added: “I am alive only by the grace of God and by the strength of my surrounding family members. We are all mentally devastated. I, and my family members, are terrified to a point where we have gone numb. I don’t know why we have received no information as to our evacuation.

“As a British national, I haven’t heard anything from the British embassy. This has been the most harrowing experience of my life. I need to understand why we are still here.”

Smoke is seen in Khartoum, Sudan

Smoke is seen in Khartoum, Sudan (Image: Marwan Ali/AP/REX/Shutterstock )

One British national said it is “imperative” to get out, but claimed he has not received any guidance from British authorities.

Speaking from Khartoum, teacher William, who did not give his last name, said: “I’m sitting in my chair in my living room, listening to a background of shooting probably 3km away. I’m as safe as anybody can be in Khartoum at the moment. I’ve been here six years. The end game is here now. We feel we need to get out. We’re very concerned there is nothing happening [in terms of an evacuation plan] it seems.

“We don’t know if this is some wonderful cunning plan that the British government is pursuing.

“It is an extremely concerning situation that’s deteriorating further and further. And the imperative is to get out of Khartoum.”

Sam, a British businessman living in Sudan, said the UK evacuation “gave us hope, but in the absence of any information from the government this was clearly a solution for diplomats only”.

He described the situation as a “nightmare for those of us left behind”, and said the embassies of other countries, such as Hungary and South Africa, are making plans to evacuate nationals.

The Government stated that a large-scale evacuation could prove a challenge, with Britain lacking the military footprint it had in Afghanistan, where thousands were airlifted out of Kabul during Operation Pitting in 2021.

Prospects for airlifting people out of Sudan have been complicated as most major airports have become battlegrounds, and movement out of the capital has proven perilous.

A cloud of black smoke was seen rising over Khartoum’s international airport last week.

Tobias Ellwood, chair of the Defence Select Committee, warned paramilitary chiefs have released rapists and murderers from prisons near Khartoum, allowing them to roam freely.

Rozan Ahmed

Rozan Ahmed (Image: Rozan Ahmed / Sky News)

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said a “temporary lull” in fighting had given Britain’s forces a window of opportunity to strike, but admitted the capability of authorities to rescue Britons still trapped are “severely limited”.

He defended prioritising an evacuation for what is thought to have been a small number of ­diplomats. Mr Cleverly said: “To fulfil our duty to protect them as their employer, we are relocating them to other embassies in the region.

“We will continue on our diplomatic effort to bring this conflict to a swift conclusion because, until that happens, we are severely limited in our ability to provide assistance to British nationals.”

The Sudanese armed forces are loyal to the country’s de facto ruler, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, while the RSF fighters follow the former warlord General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.

Tensions arose during negotiations to integrate the RSF into the country’s military. Now, Sudan is facing civil war.

The Foreign Office’s advice last night was for British nationals to contact them to register their location and details.

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly (Image: Getty)

Comment by Tobias Ellwood – Chair of the Defence Select Committee & MP for Bournemouth East

As nations across the world revise their embassy evacuation plans and bring their diplomats home, let’s not forget the expatriate community left behind, including several hundred Britons.

For now, the Foreign Office advises everyone to stay put and remain indoors, cautioning against attempting to leave the country independently.

This is due to the street fighting, with Sudanese forces deploying helicopters and fighter jets to target the paramilitary Rapid Support Force, which is fighting for power.

We need a second phase of evacuation – possibly in collaboration with our American and European allies, that offers safe passage for those who wish to leave.

The Foreign Office has done well in activating its impressive crisis management centre, which has established a detailed picture of who and where passport holders are.

However the threat continues to deteriorate rapidly, and two attempts at observing ceasefires collapsed within hours.

One of my constituents has voiced concerns about a loved one just south of the capital, but the Foreign Office’s advice to stay put remains unchanged, even with the paramilitaries allegedly releasing rapists and murderers from prisons in that area, allowing them to roam freely.

Thankfully, the UK has some incredible military assets that were put to test a highly complex and dangerous mission to evacuate our embassy staff that could now be tasked to assist with a larger scale evacuation.

We have a significant maritime presence at our naval base, HMS Jufair, in Bahrain, and several air bases across the Gulf where C-17 and Hercules aircraft could be on standby.

Let’s not forget we can also rely on some of the world’s best special forces, who regularly rehearse such scenarios. In the event that a land evacuation is required, they are well-placed to escort Britons to a central rendezvous point for extraction.

Sudan has struggled with democracy ever since gaining independence in 1956.

Putin had tasked the Wagner Group to get close to its long-term dictator President Bashir in order to secure Sudan’s gold.

Despite Bashir’s ousting in 2019, Russia continued to strengthen ties, arming both the Sudanese military and the Rapid Support Force.

We are now witnessing the Wagner Group exploiting the chaos to mine gold.

This strategy is repeated in dozens of African countries where dictators are eager to secure Russian arms to retain power and are willing to hand natural resources to Moscow.

Analysis by Col Richard Kemp – Former Commander of British Forces in Afghanistan

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.

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