Libyans condemn and urge for an end of war during a protest at the Algeria Square on Saturday in Tripoli, Libya. The Libyan government warned on Friday of the possibility of a break-up of the country if clashes between rival militias for control of Tripoli airport went on. Calling for an end to 13 days of conflict around the airport, the interim government warned of 'the collapse of the country' and 'the destruction which could result from ... endless war'. (Mahmud Turkia/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Embassy in strife-torn Libya was evacuated early Saturday, under cover of American warplanes and spy aircraft, according to the State Department and the Pentagon.
Personnel from the embassy were evacuated as security deteriorated in the capital of Tripoli.
"Due to the ongoing violence resulting from clashes between Libyan militias in the immediate vicinity of the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, we have temporarily relocated all of our personnel out of Libya," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statement.
Embassy personnel were taken to temporary offices in neighboring Tunisia with security provided by U.S. forces. Harf said the embassy is not closed but operations were temporarily suspended.
"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," Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, 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."
The evacuation took place with surveillance planes providing watch, and warplanes patrolling to provide close-air support in the event of an attack. F-16 fighters, airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets and an Airborne Response Force with MV-22 Ospreys provided security, Kirby said.
The mission was conducted without incident, and the entire operation lasted approximately five hours, he said.
The streets of Tripoli have grown chaotic. Clashes between armed militias have killed and wounded dozens in the past few weeks. Militias, paid by the government, have been battling to control the city's airport.
Since the civil war in Libya in 2011 that toppled dictator Moammar Gadhafi, the country has been unable to form a stable government. Violence has increased in recent weeks, prompting the embassy's evacuation.
United Nations and non-governmental aid organizations already have abandoned Libya's second-largest city, Benghazi. It was there on Sept. 11, 2012 that militants besieged the U.S. Consulate and nearby CIA annex, killing four Americans, including ambassador Christopher Stevens.
The fallout from that attack reverberates in Washington today. The latest investigation, led by Republicans, is getting underway on Capitol Hill, and one of the alleged ringleaders of the attack sits in a federal prison cell in Alexandria, Va., awaiting trial.
Its circumstances are the focus of a special 12-member House investigative panel led by Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C.
Republicans allege that the Obama administration misrepresented the attack to protect his re-election bid and Hillary Rodham Clinton's potential run in 2016. She was secretary of State when the attack occurred. Republican criticism first focused on then-U.N. ambassador Susan Rice, who initially pointed to mob violence over an anti-Islamic film. Democrats refute that there was a conspiracy or cover-up, saying it was a vicious attack with a tragic outcome.
Groups linked to al-Qaeda were later found to be involved.
On June 15, American special operations forces nabbed Ahmed Abu Khattala just south of Benghazi. He was taken to a Navy ship, questioned there and brought to Virginia to face trial.
Prosecutors allege that Khattala, 43, was the commander of the Benghazi branch of the Ansar al-Sharia terror group. He is due back in court Sept. 9.
Earlier this year, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report on the attack, blaming the State Department, intelligence agencies and Stevens himself for failing to communicate and pay attention to warnings of terrorist activity in the region. The chief of Africa Command at the time, Army Gen. Carter Ham, had offered Stevens military security teams, but the ambassador had turned him down.
The report also found that the Pentagon wasn't poised to respond quickly enough to the attack. Today, there is a special Marine task force stationed in Spain dedicated to respond to emergencies in west Africa. In east Africa, the Army has posted a quick-reaction force to respond to crises there.