The United States suspended operations at its embassy in Libya Saturday and evacuated its diplomats to neighboring Tunisia under U.S. military escort amid a significant deterioration in security in Tripoli as fighting intensified between rival militias, the State Department said.
FOX News The withdrawal underscored the Obama administration’s concern about the heightened risk to American diplomats abroad, particularly in Libya where memories of the deadly 2012 attack on the U.S. mission in the eastern city of Benghazi are still vivid and the political uproar over it remain fresh ahead of a new congressional investigation into the incident. A senior military official told Fox News the Pentagon has been advising the State Department leave the post for weeks.
“Securing our facilities and ensuring the safety of our personnel are top department priorities, and we did not make this decision lightly,” Harf said. “Security has to come first. Regrettably, we had to take this step because the location of our embassy is in very close proximity to intense fighting and ongoing violence between armed Libyan factions.”
American personnel at the Tripoli embassy, which had already been operating with limited staffing, left the capital around dawn and traveled by road to neighboring Tunisia, according to Harf. Roughly 70 embassy staffers were driven out of the city in a caravan by 80 Marines, Fox News has learned.
“At the request of the Department of State, the U.S. military assisted in the relocation of personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli,” a spokesman from the U.S. Department of Defense said.
“During movement, F-16’s, ISR assets and an Airborne Response Force with MV-22 Ospreys provided security,” the statement said. The evacuation was not announced in advance in order to ensure the staffers safe departure. The department said embassy operations will be suspended until a determination is made that the security situation has improved. Tripoli has been embroiled for weeks in inter-militia violence that has killed and wounded dozens on all sides.
The department said embassy operations will be suspended until a determination is made that the security situation has improved. Tripoli has been embroiled for weeks in inter-militia violence that has killed and wounded dozens on all sides.
The fighting has been particularly intense at the city’s airport where militias are fighting for control. Residents near the airport have been forced to evacuate their homes after they were hit by shells. On Friday, the official Libyan news agency LANA reported that explosions were heard early in the day near the airport area and continued into the afternoon.
The U.S. evacuation follows Turkey, which on Friday announced that it had closed down its embassy, as the United Nations, aid groups and foreign envoys also chose to leave the region.
The State Department also issued a travel warning for Libya urging Americans not to go to the country and recommending that those already there leave immediately. “The Libyan government has not been able to adequately build its military and police forces and improve security,” it said. “Many military-grade weapons remain in the hands of private individuals, including antiaircraft weapons that may be used against civilian aviation.”