The United States has evacuated its embassy in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, due to “ongoing violence resulting from clashes between Libyan militias in the immediate vicinity,” according to the State Department.
“We are committed to supporting the Libyan people during this challenging time, and are currently exploring options for a permanent return to Tripoli as soon as the security situation on the ground improves,” spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statement. “In the interim, staff will operate from Washington and other posts in the region.”
As The Associated Press has reported, the measure comes with the memory of 2012’s attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi still fresh in officials’ minds. The Obama administration has continued to come under fire from Republican opponents in Congress over what they say was an inadequate response to that incident, which left the U.S. Ambassador to Libya dead.
As we reported last month, American officials arrested a suspect in that attack, Abu Khattalia. He has since been brought to the U.S. to face trial in Washington.
The AP also says that the temporary closure is “the second time in a little more than three years” that the State Department has taken such an action in Libya. It happened before in February 2011, on the verge of Moammar Gadhafi’s overthrow, and reopened in July of that year.
Yesterday, the AP reported that an oil company worker, Martin Galea, a 42-year-old Maltese man, was abducted by Libyan rebels.
Defense Department spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby also said Saturday that embassy staff had been moved to temporary facilities in Tunisia with a military escort.
“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, Libya on Saturday, July 26,” Kirby said in a statement. “All embassy personnel were relocated, including the Marine security guards who were providing security at the embassy and during the movement.”
Harf, the State Department spokesperson, also said that Washington is “committed to supporting the Libyan people during this challenging time,” and is “currently exploring options for a permanent return to Tripoli as soon as the security situation on the ground improves.”
“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.”
Harf added that while its embassy will remain closed until the security situation improves, the U.S. government “will continue to engage all Libyans and the international community to seek a peaceful resolution to the current conflict and to advance Libya’s democratic transition.”