A defence minister has said it is “too dangerous” to send British troops to rescue UK citizens from fighting in Sudan as pressure grows on the Government to help those stuck in the war-torn country.
James Heappey claimed the situation in Khartoum is “very different” from the 2021 Afghanistan evacuation, and a plan to deploy armed forces would be “unhelpful and unrealistic”.
MPs have warned the Government “time is running out” and swift action must be taken to help UK nationals trapped in Sudan.
But armed forces minister Mr Heappey told LBC’s Tonight With Andrew Marr on Monday night: “I think people will have the evacuation from Kabul very firmly in mind. That’s the last time we saw this sort of event. But Kabul was very different.”
Asked whether it was simply too dangerous to try to use British forces to extract people, he replied: “Yes. The danger is that other than the very tight and controlled mission that we did Saturday into Sunday to extract the diplomats over which we had a very tight degree of control.
“Beyond that, we would effectively be inserting foreign troops, not just us there’ll be other countries that would want to do it, into the parts of Khartoum that has been the most hotly fought over.”
Rishi Sunak chaired an emergency Cobra meeting earlier on Monday, but there remain no plans to evacuate British citizens.
RFA Cardigan Bay and HMS Lancaster were being lined up as options to help people out of the war-torn country, where at least 2,000 UK citizens remain after UK diplomats were removed.
Foreign Office Minister Andrew Mitchell, who attended the Prime Minister’s Cobra meeting earlier, said ministers would “bend every sinew” to help British citizens in the country if it was possible to do so.
“The Foreign Office’s messaging has been absolutely consistent throughout. We have said that there is no current plan for evacuation and we are working on finding a plan,” he told Channel 4 News.
“Our strong advice to British citizens is to stay indoors. It’s extremely dangerous out on the streets of Khartoum.
“If they wish to move because they have better information on the ground than we do in the Foreign Office then they may do so, but they do so at their own risk.”
Commons Foreign Affairs Committee chair Alicia Kearns warned “time is running out” as she urged ministers to get on with evacuations “now”.
Meanwhile, Downing Street confirmed British ambassador to Sudan Giles Lever and his deputy were out of the country when violence broke out in Khartoum.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “I think it was around the time of Ramadan, that they were out of the country at that point.
“There were very senior staff still in the country and both those who were in country and the ambassador have been working around the clock to aid efforts.”
Any mission would be highly complicated, however, with Port Sudan more than 500 miles from Khartoum.
Mr Mitchell told the Commons that movement around the capital “remains extremely dangerous and no evacuation option comes without grave risk to life”.
“Khartoum airport is out of action. Energy supplies are disrupted. Food and water are becoming increasingly scarce. Internet and telephone networks are becoming difficult to access,” he said in an urgent statement.
“We continue to advise all British nationals in Sudan to stay indoors wherever possible.
“We recognise circumstances will vary in different locations across Sudan, so we are now asking British nationals to exercise their own judgment about their circumstances, including whether to relocate, but they do so at their own risk.”
But Ms Kearns, a Tory MP, said: “Trust at this point is being stretched, trust that we will evacuate them and get them to a place of safety when they are in need.”
Downing Street said the UK will “pull every lever possible to help bring about a ceasefire and equally to support British nationals trapped by fighting”.
Some British nationals have said they felt “abandoned” after diplomats were rescued in a night-time evacuation mission, and were organising dangerous private evacuations.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer urged the Government to move quickly to help British nationals, telling journalists in south London: “There’s deep concern about those that are still there and in fear and real concern about what’s going to happen to them.
“I do want the Government to do everything it can at pace to help them get out of that difficult situation.”
The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said more than a thousand people have been extracted through the combined efforts of member states.
About 50 Irish citizens have been evacuated from Khartoum to Djibouti with the support of France and Spain, with more evacuations planned, deputy premier Micheal Martin said.
William, a UK citizen in Sudan, told the BBC he was forced to “go private” and leave Khartoum on a bus arranged by his Sudanese employer because “we’ve had absolutely nothing but nonsense from the Government”.
Iman Abugarga, a British woman who has been sheltering in Khartoum, said she feels “absolutely” abandoned by the British Government.
“It is shameful how they have mismanaged this situation,” she told the Telegraph.
Mr Sunak said on Sunday there had been a “complex and rapid” evacuation of British diplomats and their families from Khartoum, a city gripped by an internal battle for control between rival generals.
Hundreds of people have died and thousands hurt in a bloody conflict between the Sudanese army and a powerful paramilitary group known as the Rapid Support Forces.
The prospect of airlifting large numbers of people out of Sudan has been complicated by the fact that most major airports have become battlegrounds, while movement out of the capital has proved perilous.
The current explosion of violence comes after two generals fell out over a recent internationally brokered deal with democracy activists, which was meant to incorporate the RSF into the military and eventually lead to civilian rule.