Although it was U.S. special operations forces who led the evacuation of nearly 100 Americans from the embassy in Sudan on Sunday, 12 Marine security guards stationed there contributed to the effort, U.S. officials say.
“Their relationships with our interagency partners at the Department of State, in particular the Diplomatic Security Service, ensured swift coordination,” a spokesman for Marine Corps Embassy Security Group said in an emailed statement to Marine Corps Times on Monday. “Their actions maintained security during a critical time and resulted in a safe movement out of Khartoum to return personnel to the U.S.”
The statement provided no additional details about the Marines’ role in the evacuation of the embassy in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital. The spokesman added in a follow-up email that 13 Marine security guards had been assigned to the detachment in Khartoum.
After leaving Khartoum, Sudan, the Marines returned to the United States via Ramstein Air Base, Germany, according to the spokesman.
Battles between two rival Sudanese commanders had forced the closing of the main international airport and left roads out of the country in control of armed fighters. The skirmishes have killed more than 400 people.
About 100 U.S. troops in three MH-47 helicopters carried out the operation. They airlifted all of the remaining U.S. employees from a landing zone at the embassy to an undisclosed location in Ethiopia.
Troops from SEAL Team Six and the Army’s 3rd Special Forces Group were involved in the evacuation, a security official told the Washington Post.
Some officials within the Marine Corps are concerned that the Pentagon, apparently because of a dearth of ready amphibious ships, didn’t send Marine forces for the evacuation, Politico reported.
White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Monday that Washington has begun facilitating the overland departure of private U.S. citizens who want to leave Sudan, with the use of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets. Earlier, the U.S. government told some 16,000 U.S. citizens in Sudan that they need to fend for themselves and that there wouldn’t be mass evacuations.
Embassy security duty is known as a special duty assignment, akin to duty as a drill instructor or recruiter.
“Our Marines who protect many of our embassies overseas do not often get the credit they deserve,” Christopher Maier, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, said in a State Department news briefing following the evacuation. “Their courage under duress represents America at its best, again, in this instance.”
Marine security guards also helped in evacuations of the embassies in Kabul in 2021 and Kyiv, Ukraine, in 2022.
In fact, one Marine clarinetist-turned-security guard, Staff Sgt. Ryan San Juan, happened to be stationed in Afghanistan in 2021 and Ukraine in 2022 and assisted in both evacuations.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to note that there were 12 Marine security guards on duty at the time of the evacuation. There were 13 assigned to the embassy, but one was on leave, according to a Marine spokesman.
Irene Loewenson is a staff reporter for Marine Corps Times. She joined Military Times as an editorial fellow in August 2022. She is a graduate of Williams College, where she was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper.