By Ashraf Abdul Wahab and Hadi Fornaji.
Tripoli, 26 July 2014:
The United States has temporarily pulled its diplomats and embassy support staff . . .[restrict]out of Libya in an overnight operation which included jet planes flying over Tripoli.
It was a “major operation” one diplomat told the Libya Herald.
Under the top-cover of US jets, more than one convoy left the embassy very early this morning. In a statement, the US State Department’s deputy spokesperson Marie Harf said the convoy drove to the border and were now in Tunisia.
Reports that some headed for Mitiga Airbase where two US aircraft flew them out have not been confirmed, however, photos of a US air transporter at the airbase have been circulating on social media.
The trigger for the evacuation was the missile strikes in the Airport Road area. The highly protected embassy is located not far from the Brega Oil and Gas Marketing Company’s fuel depot on the road, which itself was hit by a missile on Wednesday. Although there was massive security at the embassy, there was no protection from missiles landing.
“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 said.
Staff would, however, return “as soon as the security situation on the ground improves”, she explained. In the meantime, staff would operate from Washington and elsewhere in the region.
“Securing our facilities and ensuring the safety of our personnel are top Department priorities, and we did not make this decision lightly. Security has to come first”, Harf noted, reflecting the fact the safety of American diplomats in Libya is a highly-charged political issue in the US as a result of the killing two years ago in Benghazi of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other embassy staff.
Stating that the US was still committed to continue working with Libya, the State Department said that “Libyans must immediately cease hostilities and begin negotiations to resolve their grievances”. Libyans should respect the will of the people and reject the use of violence for political objectives.
A number of foreign embassies,including those of Japan and Turkey have already left Libya and it is thought that following the US evacuation others will follow suit. However, it is also believed that the main European diplomatic missions, although they have reduced staff, will not. [/restrict]