Some may wonder why the United States appeared to play a more active role in helping private US citizens living in Afghanistan at the time of the US withdrawal in August 2021 and its aftermath.
In that instance, the US government helped make special arrangements for evacuating diplomats, many private US citizens, and tens of thousands of Afghan civilians who felt endangered because of their affiliation with the United States and other allies who were ending a 20-year military presence aimed at defending the Afghan government that collapsed during the Taliban takeover more than a year and a half ago.
The United States made a bigger effort to evacuate a larger number of people outside of its embassy and military teams in Afghanistan for two main reasons.
First, it felt some sense of obligation and commitment to help Afghans who risked their lives working with the United States for years, and many of the Americans in Afghanistan were in the country engaged in activities aimed at supporting the overall US government mission.
Second, the United States had more capacity and knowledge about the situation in Afghanistan — particularly the security dynamics — given its long and sizable presence in the country. In other words, it made more of an effort in Afghanistan than Sudan because it had the resources in place, but it also felt that it should, given that the decades-long mission fell drastically short from meeting its stated goals.
In Sudan, none of those conditions were present. The United States had only a small number of US military personnel on the ground — a contingent of Marines who served as guards at the embassy in Khartoum.
As a result, the United States lacked the deep knowledge of Sudan's security landscape that it possessed after decades in Afghanistan, and that combination of a lack of situational awareness, as well as a very thin security presence on the ground, limited the practical options.
2. Only a small number of Americans in Sudan appear to have sought out help
A second factor that helps explain why the US government hasn't appeared to have done as much for American citizens stuck in Sudan relates to the overall numbers of US citizens, why some of them are likely there, and the conditions that they chose to operate in given the multiple warnings the US government gave about the risks of travelling to and living in Sudan.
According to US government officials, there were about 16,000 American citizens living in Sudan when this conflict broke out.
Less than a third of those citizens – about 5,000 people – were actually registered with the US embassy, which means they reached out to the embassy at some point after their arrival and provided their contact information in the event that they wanted to receive messages from the US government about various contingencies that might unfold, like what to do in this latest round of conflict.
The US government has repeatedly warned American citizens not to travel to Sudan, and they cautioned that any consular services and help inside of the country from the US embassy might be very limited due to the conditions on the ground.
Furthermore, many of the US citizens living in Sudan appear to be Sudanese Americans with family ties and deep familiarity of the situation on the ground, and one reason why most of these people did not reach out for US government help is that they assessed correctly that there would be severe practical limitations with what the US government could and would do to help them personally as the conflict grew more volatile.