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Hundreds of Americans fleeing two weeks of deadly fighting in Sudan reached the east African nation’s port Saturday in the first U.S.-run evacuation, completing a dangerous land journey under escort of armed drones.

American unmanned aircraft, which have been keeping an eye on overland evacuation routes for days, provided armed overwatch for a bus convoy carrying 200 to 300 Americans over 500 miles or 800 kilometers to Port Sudan, a place of relative safety, U.S. officials said.

The U.S., which had none of its officials on the ground for the evacuation, has been criticized by families of trapped Americans in Sudan for initially ruling out any U.S.-run evacuation for those among an estimated 16,000 Americans in Sudan who wish to leave.

U.S. special operations troops briefly flew to the capital, Khartoum, April 22 to airlift out American staffers at the embassy and other American government personnel. More than a dozen other nations have already been carrying out evacuations for their citizens, using a mix of military planes, navy vessels and on the ground personnel.

Learn more about Sudan’s political situation.

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