By Jennifer Hansler, CNN
The first US-led effort to evacuate private American citizens from the conflict in Sudan was completed Saturday, with a convoy organized by the US government reaching Port Sudan after a long journey from Khartoum.
“A U.S. government-organized convoy carrying U.S citizens, locally employed staff, and nationals from allied and partner countries arrived at Port Sudan on April 29,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement. “From there, we are assisting U.S. citizens and others who are eligible with onward travel to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia where additional U.S. personnel are positioned to assist with consular and emergency services.”
The effort came amid mounting anger from Americans in Sudan who felt abandoned by the US government and were left to navigate the complicated and dangerous situation on their own.
The deadly violence between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces paramilitary group that broke out earlier month has left hundreds dead, including two Americans, and thousands wounded. The country remains at risk of humanitarian disaster, as those still trapped in their homes face shortages of food, water, medicine and electricity.
Despite a number of nations evacuating their citizens, the US government had maintained for more than a week that the conditions were not conducive to a civilian evacuation. All US government personnel were evacuated in a military operation last weekend.
Miller said in the statement Saturday that the US-led convoy “builds on the work the U.S. government has done this week to facilitate the departure of our diplomats by military assisted departure, and hundreds of other U.S. citizens by land convoys, flights on partner air craft, and sea.”
“Intensive negotiations by the United States with the support of our regional and international partners enabled the security conditions that have allowed the departure of thousands of foreign and U.S. citizens, including through today’s operation,” he said.
On Thursday, American citizens who had registered with the State Department for assistance received an email advising them that “the US government is planning to assist US nationals and immediate family members with a valid US travel document to depart Khartoum for Port Sudan in the coming days, possibly as early as tomorrow, via an overland convoy.”
On Friday, they were advised to meet between certain hours at a golf course and to bring “food, water, and travel essentials … limited to only one travel bag,” according to an email reviewed by CNN.
Miller’s statement said that “the US government has taken extensive efforts to contact U.S. citizens in Sudan and enable the departure of those who wished to leave.”
“We messaged every U.S. citizen in Sudan who communicated with us during the crisis and provided specific instructions about joining this convoy to those who were interested in departing via the land route,” he said. “We encourage U.S. citizens who want to leave Sudan but chose not to participate in this convoy to contact the Department of State using the crisis intake form on our website.”
The Defense Department monitored the evacuation convoy with surveillance assets, the Pentagon said in a statement Saturday, adding that it is moving Navy ships to Port Sudan to provide assistance.
On Friday, State Department principal deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said that “fewer than 5,000 US citizens have requested additional information from us” since the start of the crisis in Sudan.
“Of those, only a fraction have actively sought our assistance to depart Sudan,” he said.
Still, CNN spoke with a number of family members of stranded Americans who said that the State Department had not provided sufficient assistance since the violence had broken out.
Before news of the American convoy Saturday, Deana Welker, an American teacher who recently evacuated Sudan with the help of the French Embassy, told CNN that she was disappointed in the US government.
“I can’t even express how disappointing it was that it was another country’s military and embassy who got us out and we were just lucky enough to be a part of that group, to have heard about it and gotten there in time,” Welker said. “I mean if we hadn’t, who knows? It bothers me because they say, ‘Oh it’s too dangerous, we can’t get there,’ but all these other countries are getting there and getting their people out? So I don’t understand that.”
Mary Carlin Yates, the former charge d’affaires in Khartoum for the State Department, described the journey from Khartoum to Port Sudan as a “long arduous journey,” during an interview with CNN on Saturday, one that was already difficult when she traveled the route in an armored air-conditioned vehicle.
But Yates said the US may have had legitimate reasons for waiting to figure out the best way out for US citizens.
“I think there’s some justification for waiting and finding a mechanism that could be repeated and is the safest,” Yates said.
This story has been updated with additional information.
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CNN’s Sydney Kashiwagi contributed to this report.