Canada's Sudan relief flights held up by mechanical difficulties, shooting incident involving Turkish plane

Jordanians evacuated from Sudan arrive at a military airport in Amman, Jordan on April 24, 2023. (Raad Adayleh/AP - image credit)
Jordanians evacuated from Sudan arrive at a military airport in Amman, Jordan on April 24, 2023. (Raad Adayleh/AP - image credit)

Two Canadian evacuation flights made it safely out of Khartoum late Friday after two earlier airlifts to extract Canadians from the war zone were cancelled, said Global Affairs Canada and Defence Minister Anita Anand.

In a tweet, Anand said the Canadian military will remain "ready to conduct flights for as long as conditions allow."

One of Canada's planned evacuation flights to Sudan ran into mechanical problems early Friday in the nearby country of Djibouti and had to be scrubbed.

A second Canadian flight, involving a C-130J Hercules transport, was cancelled after a Turkish relief plane was fired on by one of the warring parties.

The problems emerged just one day after Canada began its long-anticipated humanitarian mission in the east African country, now in the midst of a precarious ceasefire between two warring factions.

Canada has been staging its evacuation flights out of Djibouti. Two aircraft are assigned to the mission.

Anand, who spoke publicly early on Friday, did not say where the C-130J encountered its mechanical issues, or what the nature of the problem was.

"We need to ensure that occurs safely and that's the question on the table right now," Anand told reporters at a media availability in Dartmouth, N.S.

WATCH: Defence minister gives update on evacuation efforts

Canadians and other foreign nationals have been caught in the crossfire of Sudan's civil conflict after violence broke out last week between the east African country's army and a paramilitary force.

Canadians waiting at the airstrip on Friday said they were left outside most of the time with little water or food, and almost no information.

"The British Army are the ones that have been providing food, water and anything else that people need," said Safia Mustafa, who grew up in St. Catharines, Ont., but now lives in Calgary. "They've been really, really helpful. They help people with their bags shuttling back and forth."

CBC News
CBC News

Mustafa said a handful of Canadian military personnel on the ground have been "doing their best to ... communicate with us," but they seemed stressed.

"I think a lot of it is out of their control," she said.

The fragility of Sudan's truce was underscored Friday by reports that a Turkish evacuation plane came under fire at an airbase outside Sudan's capital Khartoum as it was coming in to land.

The Turkish defence ministry said no one was injured and it landed safely at Wadi Seidna, where it was being checked.

The Sudanese army blamed paramilitary fighters with the Rapid Support Forces faction for the attack on the Turkish aircraft. The RSF denied the allegation, saying it was committed to the extended humanitarian truce.

The two sides agreed late Thursday to a three-day extension of their ceasefire, which had been set to expire.

Aside from concerns about security, Anand said the condition of the runway at the Sudanese military airport is an increasing source of concern for Canada and its allies.

"The terrain at the airport is very rough and it requires a continual assessment by our officials, together with our allies, that planes can safely take off," she said.

Late Friday, a senior defence official in Ottawa said the window for air evacuation out of Sudan is closing rapidly and options are being developed for Global Affairs to get Canadians out overland to the port of Sudan — where a Canadian warship, a supply vessel and allied ships are waiting.

But that would involved a risky 800-kilometre journey during a ceasefire that is barely holding.

"The two militaries involved, the Sudanese military and the rapid support forces, are probably not under as tight control as we would like in terms of command and control," said retired major-general Denis Thompson, a former special forces commander. "Even though there may be a ceasefire in place, it doesn't necessarily mean that the soldiers on the ground get the message,"

Global Affairs Canada says over 300 Canadians have been evacuated so far.