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US evacuates embassy in Libya amid clashes


WASHINGTON (AP) - The United States shuttered its embassy in Libya on Saturday and evacuated its diplomats to neighboring Tunisia under U.S. military escort as fighting intensified between rival militias. Secretary of State John Kerry said "free-wheeling militia violence" prompted the move.

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, with U.S. fighter jets and other aircraft providing protection, the State Department said. 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.

The evacuation was accompanied by a new State Department 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 anti-aircraft weapons that may be used against civilian aviation."

Speaking Saturday in Paris where he was meeting with other diplomats on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Kerry said the U.S. remains committed to the diplomatic process in Libya despite the suspension of embassy activities there. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the evacuated employees will continue to work on Libyan issues in Tunis, elsewhere in North Africa and Washington.

"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."

The Pentagon said in statement that F-16 fighter jets and other U.S. aircraft provided security. "The mission was conducted without incident, and the entire operation lasted approximately five hours," the statement said.

The State 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.

"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," Harf said.

Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., the House Armed Services Committee chairman, expressed gratitude for the work of the U.S. forces that helped in the evacuation.

The move marks the second time in a little more than three years that Washington has closed its embassy in Libya. In February 2011, the embassy suspended operations during the uprising that eventually toppled longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi. After the formation of a transitional government in July 2011, the embassy reopened in September. Gadhafi was killed in October 2011.

The Obama administration has been particularly sensitive about security of U.S. government employees in Libya since the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. mission in the country's second largest city of Benghazi. The attack killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. The administration is still fending off criticism from Republicans and others that it did not take the needed steps to enhance security in Benghazi or evacuate the mission due to rising violence in that city in the months prior to the attack.

The Benghazi mission was abandoned after that attack and never reopened. The embassy In Tripoli has been operating with reduced staff since but has remained open even as the violence intensified.

On Friday, U.S. Ambassador to Libya Deborah Jones appealed for fighting near the embassy to stop. "We have not been attacked but our neighborhood a bit 2 close to the action," she tweeted. "Diplomatic missions 2 B avoided pls." Jones had also tweeted about "heavy shelling and other exchanges" of fire in the vicinity of the embassy. Speculation about an evacuation had been rife at the State Department for more than a week.

Libya is now witnessing one of its worst spasms of violence since Gadhafi's ouster. In Tripoli, the militias are fighting mostly for control of the airport. They are on the government's payroll because authorities have depended on them to restore order.

The U.S. is the latest in a number of countries to have closed diplomatic operations in Libya. Turkey on Friday announced that it had shut its embassy and militia clashes in Benghazi have prompted the United Nations, aid groups and foreign envoys to leave.

In Tripoli, clashes near the international airport have forced residents to evacuate their homes nearby 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 battle in Tripoli began earlier this month when Islamist-led militias - mostly from the western city of Misrata - launched a surprise assault on the airport, under control of rival militias from the western mountain town of Zintan. On Monday, a $113 million Airbus A330 passenger jet for Libya's state-owned Afriqiyah Airways was destroyed in the fighting.

The rival militias, made up largely of former anti-Gadhafi rebels, have forced a weeklong closure of gas stations and government offices. In recent days, armed men have attacked vehicles carrying money from the Central Bank to local banks, forcing their closure.

Libyan government officials and activists have increasingly been targeted in the violence. Gunmen kidnapped two lawmakers in the western suburbs of Tripoli a week ago and on Friday armed men abducted Abdel-Moaz Banoun, a well-known Libyan political activist in Tripoli, according to his father.

An umbrella group for Islamist militias, called the Operation Room of Libya's Revolutionaries, said in a brief statement on its Facebook page on Friday that "troops arrested Abdel-Moaz over allegations that he served under Gadhafi" and "instigated rallies against" the Islamists.

Embassy Exit Shows How Chaotic Libya Has Become

Join the discussion

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fecarman July 26 2014 at 1:04 PM

We are becoming a nation who retreats at the sight of trouble. NO ONE IS AFRAID OF THE USA ANY MORE! Thank you Mr OBAMA

Flag Reply +33 rate up
7 replies
Diane July 26 2014 at 12:43 PM

Why would anyone go to Libya, especially since Obama and Clinton won't protect you from being killed. That pretty much goes for anywhere in the middle east. Its on fire and its because of the weak and inept person sitting in the white house.

Flag Reply +28 rate up
7 replies
hokanut July 26 2014 at 12:33 PM

President Obamas foreign policies promoting "tranquility" throughout the middle east. Can anyone say wildfire?

Flag Reply +27 rate up
4 replies
hatpillbill July 26 2014 at 12:40 PM

Hillary would have left them to fend for themselves

Flag Reply +24 rate up
2 replies
RUDY hatpillbill July 26 2014 at 7:41 PM

and you know this because your security clearance is that high, right?

Flag Reply 0 rate up
allendniles hatpillbill July 26 2014 at 11:40 PM

Funding was not an issue if you paid any attention to the hearing when the Dep State official testified to that effect. FYI dems on the committe also voted to cut funding which was still more than last year's. You Obots are pathetics.

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tmccull52 July 26 2014 at 12:39 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) - The United States shuttered its embassy in Libya on Saturday and evacuated its diplomats to neighboring Tunisia under U.S. military escort as fighting intensified between rival militias. Secretary of State John Kerry said "free-wheeling militia violence" prompted the move.

Upon learning of this evacuation, former Secretary of State and 2016 Presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton observed, "It's about time! Someone should have done that the first time around."

Rodham Clinton then went on to lay out her plans to challenge Russian President Vladmir Putin to an arm-wrestling contest for control over the Ukraine, and shared her recipe for spicy bean dip on "The View".

Flag Reply +15 rate up
3 replies
tacarey July 26 2014 at 12:57 PM

New Obama tactic: When things look bad, RUN!!!!!!

Flag Reply +14 rate up
4 replies
Carol July 26 2014 at 1:37 PM

Too bad obama and clinton did not think of that for Bengahzi.

Flag Reply +13 rate up
6 replies
buddwhyzr July 26 2014 at 12:40 PM

Embassies are obsolete. They are only used now for gathering intelligence by the CIA and the Ambassadors are just high ranking spies. No sense advertising where our base of operations is.

Flag Reply +12 rate up
3 replies
Meh... July 26 2014 at 1:39 PM

look at these comments.... half want to drag Benghazi out, the other half want them to stay because "running" looks like chickens.... so half of you want to complain about why they didn't evacuate Benghazi.... like that has a flipping thing to do with evacuating now, and the other half want the people to stay there and be murdered just to save face?

If anything we should be extra happy they DID evacuate to avoid another Benghazi....... but it doesn't matter if he evacuated or not, you'd hate either decision.

Flag Reply +9 rate up
8 replies
lgvxl42 July 26 2014 at 5:38 PM

While I'm certainly happy that our State Department has deemed it necessary to evacuate Libya, I'm curious as to where in the hell was Hillary Clinton's mind as Benghazi was being over run? This fiasco continues to haunt us.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
1 reply
kcarthey lgvxl42 July 26 2014 at 5:43 PM

Do you really think that the SoS knows where every Ambassador goes on a daily basis? Do you really believe that the SoS has any say on where CIA facilities are or their needs? I have a bridge....

Flag Reply 0 rate up
1 reply
momsname17 kcarthey July 26 2014 at 6:55 PM

The fact that they sent message after message asking for help,i think she should have known something,o,i forgot it was the video.And if you are former military as i beleive i read,maybe you should reconsider the lack of help they receive..

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