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Monday 25 September 2023 Dublin: 16°C
Alamy Stock Photo Fire and smoke rises in the city of Khartoum, Sudan.
# crisis
Govt agrees to deploy Army Ranger Wing to help Irish citizens leave Sudan
Joe Biden has called for an “immediate and unconditional ceasefire”.

LAST UPDATE | Apr 23rd 2023, 5:15 PM

THE GOVERNMENT HAS cleared the way for the Army Ranger Wing (ARW) to travel to Sudan to help Irish citizens leave Sudan.

The 12 man team has been on standby, sources have said, but this morning the Cabinet agreed to dispatch the special forces soldiers to assist Department of Foreign Affairs officials on the ground.  

The ARW has previously deployed as part of the Emergency Consular Assistance Team (ECAT) to Kabul to rescue Irish citizens there. 

It is understood that four soldiers will travel by commercial flight this evening to Djibouti along with Department of Foreign Affairs staff. The remaining team will travel later, possibly in next 48 hours, via Air Corps aircraft to France and join their colleagues along with French forces. 

High level meetings have taken place this morning to discuss plans to rescue 140 Irish citizens in Sudan, sources have confirmed.

A team in the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) are working on a plan and liaising with a number of other countries to organise the operation. 

This afternoon Tánaiste Micheál Martin released a statement which outlines that the soldiers with the ECAT will travel initially to Djibouti – the mission will be led by DFA personnel in conjunction by Department of Defence civilian experts.

The ARW will provide security and secure communications for the civilian diplomats. 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: “The situation on the ground in Sudan remains extremely volatile and I wish the ECAT and Defence Forces team every success in this mission.”

Martin said that there has been intensive work by DFA since the outbreak of the violence. 

“Above all, our primary aim is to offer our citizens every assistance through what has been an extremely difficult and challenging time.”

A team will arrive in Djibouti today. A department spokesperson said that duration of the mission will be dependent on the progress that can be made, the security situation on the ground and decisions on extraction by partners.

Djibouti has a large military presence and played host to several Special Forces teams from across the world in recent days – much of the rescue operation is being run out of that location. 

Sources have said that some foreign nationals in Sudan have been making the perilous 12 hour trip by road to Port Sudan where they are being collected by Saudi military vessels and brought to Jedah.

“We are currently in contact with Irish citizens who have registered with our Embassy. Every effort is being made to assist them,” the spokesperson said. 

It comes as US Special Forces troops launched a rescue mission overnight to evacuate embassy staff from Sudan’s battle-torn capital as other nations sought to help their citizens flee deadly fighting between rival generals.

France also launched evacuation operations from the northeast African nation, where ongoing fighting has entered its second week.

This morning a spokesperson for the DFA said that department officials have been planning the rescue of Irish citizens. It is understood that members of the Army Ranger Wing are ready to deploy if they are called upon by the Government. 

The DFA said that Irish citizens in Sudan should follow the Embassy of Ireland in Kenya on Twitter (@IrlEmbKenya) for updated advice.

They have also issued emergency numbers +254 716 353 999, and the Department of Foreign Affairs on +353 1 408 2000.

It is understood that while diplomatic staff were rescued last night – there will be a separate operation to evacuate citizens.

The British military, comprising 1,200 personnel were also involved in a rescue mission over night. 

Ferocious battles between the Sudanese army and a paramilitary group – which has seen fighting with tanks in densely populated Khartoum and air strikes launched by fighter jets – have killed more than 400 people and left thousands wounded.

Biden, who said the US military “conducted an operation” to extract US government personnel, condemned the violence, saying “it’s unconscionable and it must stop”.

Just over 100 US special operations troops took part in the rescue to extract fewer than 100 people, which saw three Chinook helicopters fly from Djibouti, staying on the ground in Khartoum for less than an hour.

France’s foreign ministry said today a “rapid evacuation operation” had begun, and that European citizens and those from “allied partner countries” would also be assisted, without giving further details.

Yesterday, Tánaiste Micheál Martin said that the Department of Foreign Affairs was in contact with 125 Irish citizens in Sudan. 

“Deeply concerned by the ongoing situation in Sudan,” Martin said.

We are actively planning for assisted evacuation with our international partners when conditions make it possible. Currently in contact with 125 Irish citizens. Every effort being made to assist them.

Sources say contingency planning is underway for Irish citizens in the north African country.

The Emergency Consular Assistance Team (ECAT) would need to be actioned to evacuate Irish citizens. ECAT comprises the Army Ranger Wing and personnel from the Department of Foreign Affairs, but it is expected aircraft from other countries would also be needed for such an operation. 

Continued fighting

Fighting continued today with the crackle of automatic gunfire echoing across Khartoum and Sudanese military aircraft roaring overhead, witnesses said.

Frightened residents, many low on water, food and other essentials, have huddled inside their homes in the chaos-torn city where buildings have been gutted, lampposts are lying on the ground, and smoke has been rising from shops set on fire.

Heavy fighting broke out on 15 April between forces loyal to army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his deputy turned rival Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, who commands the powerful paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

The former allies seized power in a 2021 coup but later fell out in a bitter power struggle.

Daglo’s RSF emerged from the Janjaweed fighters unleashed in Darfur by former strongman leader Omar al-Bashir, where they were accused of war crimes.

Multiple truces have been agreed and ignored.

Khartoum’s airport has been the site of heavy fighting with aircraft destroyed on the runway, and is under the control of the RSF.

US Under Secretary of State John Bass said that the RSF “cooperated to the extent that they did not fire on our service members”, warning any wider effort to evacuate thousands of other American citizens was unlikely in the coming days.

More than 150 people from various nations reached the safety of Saudi Arabia after naval forces launched a rescue across the Red Sea yesterday, collecting both Saudi citizens and nationals from 12 other countries from Port Sudan.

Other foreign countries have said they are preparing for the potential evacuation of thousands more of their nationals, with South Korea and Japan deploying forces to nearby countries, and the European Union weighing a similar move.

Three German military transport planes had to turn back Wednesday, according to German weekly Der Spiegel.

But the scramble by foreigners to escape has sparked worry among Sudanese of what will happen when diplomats who could act as potential mediators have gone.

“Pushing for safe passages to evacuate internationals without simultaneously pushing to end the war will be terrible”, said researcher Hamid Khalafallah.

“International actors will have less impact once they’re out of country,” he said, adding in a message to foreign nations:

Do all you can to leave safely, but don’t leave the Sudanese people behind unprotected.

‘Living in darkness’

In Khartoum, a city of five million, the conflict has left terrified civilians sheltering inside their homes, with power largely cut amid sweltering heat and the internet cut for most.

Many have ventured out only to get food and water, supplies of which are dwindling, or to flee the city.

“We were living in darkness… first we didn’t have water and then we didn’t have power,” Khartoum resident Awad Ahmad Sherif said.

We ask God for our safety.

While the capital has seen some of the fiercest clashes, fighting has broken out elsewhere across Sudan, Africa’s third biggest nation and roughly three times the size of France.

Battles have raged in Darfur, where Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in the city of El Fasher said their medics had been “overwhelmed” by the number of patients with gunshot wounds, many of them children.

The UN World Health Organization said more than 420 people had been killed and over 3,700 wounded in the fighting across Sudan, but the actual death toll is thought to be higher.

Some hospitals have been shelled in fighting and others looted, with more than two-thirds of hospitals in Khartoum and neighbouring states “out of service”, the doctors’ union said.

Burhan and Daglo’s dispute centred on the planned integration of the RSF into the regular army, a key condition for a deal aimed at restoring Sudan’s democratic transition after the military toppled Bashir in April 2019 following mass citizen protests.

With reporting from Press Association, AFP and Tadgh McNally. 

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