Washington (CNN) The US State Department has created a special task force to deal with the crisis in Sudan, a spokesman told CNN on Tuesday.
“The State Department has established a military conflict task force in Sudan to oversee the department’s planning, management and logistics related to events in Sudan,” the spokesman said.
Notice of the task force was sent to staff on Monday, sources said.
In recent days, intense fighting between the rival Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Force (RSF) has erupted in Khartoum and spread further into the country, leaving hundreds dead and wounded.
The State Department urged American citizens to shelter in place, and American diplomats in Khartoum also sheltered in place. The U.S. Embassy said Tuesday that “due to the uncertain security situation in Khartoum and the closure of the airport, there are no plans for a U.S. government-coordinated evacuation.”
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken told a news conference on Tuesday that “yesterday we had an American diplomatic convoy that was fired upon”.
“All our people are safe and unharmed. But this action was reckless, irresponsible and, of course, dangerous – a diplomatic convoy with diplomatic signs, an American flag, was fired upon,” he said at a press conference in Japan.
Both the SAF and the RSF have said they are committed to a 24-hour ceasefire starting Tuesday evening local time, although there have been reports of gunfire since the supposed start of the truce.
“We continue to press the RSF and SAF to establish a 24-hour ceasefire and call on both to ensure that all forces respect it,” the State Department spokesman said.
Before the ceasefire was announced, Blinken called the leaders of each of the rival factions to urge them to stop fighting.
E.J. Hogendorn, who previously served at the State Department as a senior adviser to the US special envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, told CNN he understood that the US ambassador to Sudan, John Godfrey, was also heavily involved in talks with the countries, even as shelters on site in Khartoum.
“We have all kinds of systems in place for him to be able to do that,” he said.
“In addition to trying to get them to de-escalate, I guess they also have to think about possible evacuation of personnel and certainly the safety of their personnel, trying to coordinate with other embassies,” Hogendorn said.
Hogendoorn noted that the embassy compounds “are pretty self-sufficient for fairly long periods of time.”
“Unless there is a full frontal assault on the US Embassy compound, people are safe.” I imagine they would want to be present as long as warranted in an effort to try to help and try to resolve the fighting,” he said.
The “biggest challenge” for the U.S. and its partners is that the conflict in Sudan “seems existential for both sides,” so “it’s going to be very difficult to convince them that they have to stop,” Hogendoorn told CNN.
“There are indications that command and control is starting to deteriorate, particularly for the RSF, so even if the United States can put pressure on these people, they may not be able to actually stop the fighting quickly,” he added.
And with the fighting spreading to other parts of the country, “there will be even less command and control over these forces,” he said.
Asked what leverage the U.S. has to pressure countries to end the fighting, Hogendoorn said the U.S. can freeze bank accounts and revenue streams, and “that will very quickly make it difficult for countries to continue to pursue the fighting in a serious way,” but determining which accounts to pursue can quickly become complicated.
“The State Department needs to think seriously about what they need to do to end the fighting and not be delusional about who started the conflict, whether one side is the good guy and the other is the bad guy.” I think the goal should be to stop the hostilities as quickly as possible and then ensure that whatever happens, it also positively affects the negotiations that will undoubtedly happen,” he said.
Blinken said on Tuesday that the US was “in very close coordination with other countries that have influence in Sudan”.
“I’ve been on the phone with colleagues in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom to make sure we’re coordinating carefully,” he said. “Our team has also been in very close contact with the African Union, with other international organizations – again to make sure that everyone is coordinated and that we are channeling the shared determination among the international community to get to a ceasefire as quickly as possible and get Sudan back on the road to talks, negotiations, again, to restore a civilian-led government in Sudan.”
Hogendoorn told CNN that “unless there is more decisive intervention from international partners,” he is concerned that a “Syria-like scenario” could develop in Sudan, “where different armed factions take control of different parts On the side”.
“And it becomes very, very challenging to bring the country back together or even to provide sustained aid to people who are just pawns in this struggle between these two generals,” he said.