Category Archives: Defense Department

U.S. Relocates More Baghdad/Erbil Staff to Basrah and Amman (Jordan), Updates Aug. 8 Travel Warning

– Domani Spero

 

On June 15, 2014, the State Department went on partial “temporary relocation” of USG personnel in Embassy Baghdad to Basrah, Erbil and Amman, Jordan (see US Mission Iraq: Now on Partial “Temporary Relocation” To Basra, Erbil & Amman (Jordan)).

Today, the State Department issued an update to its August 8 Travel Warning for Iraq noting the departure of  a “limited” number of staff from our posts in Baghdad and Erbil to the Consulate General in Basrah and Amman, Jordan.

CIA map

Map via CIA.gov (click on image to see larger view)

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens against all but essential travel to Iraq.  Travel within Iraq remains dangerous given the security situation. The Embassy in Baghdad and the Consulate General in Erbil remain open and operating, but the Department of State has relocated a limited number of staff members from the Embassy in Baghdad and the Consulate General in Erbil to the Consulate General in Basrah and the Iraq Support Unit in Amman. The Embassy in Baghdad and the Consulate General in Erbil remain open and operating. This Travel Warning supersedes the Travel Warning dated August 8, 2014, to note the departure of some staff from the Consulate General in Erbil. The ability of the Embassy to respond to situations in which U.S. citizens face difficulty, including arrests, is extremely limited.

U.S. citizens in Iraq remain at high risk for kidnapping and terrorist violence.  Methods of attack have included roadside improvised explosive devices (IEDs), including explosively formed penetrators (EFPs); magnetic IEDs placed on vehicles; human and vehicle-borne IEDs; mines placed on or concealed near roads; mortars and rockets; and shootings using various direct fire weapons.  These and other attacks frequently occur in public gathering places, such as cafes, markets and other public venues.

Numerous insurgent groups, including ISIL, previously known as al-Qa’ida in Iraq, remain active and terrorist activity and violence persist in many areas of the country.  ISIL and its allies control Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, and have captured significant territory across central Iraq and continue to engage with Iraqi security forces in that region.  In early August, the threat to the Iraqi Kurdistan Region (IKR) increased considerably with the advance of ISIL towards Kurdish areas.

Due to the potential of political protests and demonstrations to become violent, U.S. citizens in Iraq are strongly urged to avoid protests and large gatherings.

Read in full here.

Three days ago, President Obama ordered U.S. aircraft to drop humanitarian supplies to tens of thousands of Yezidi refugees fleeing the terrorists of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in northern Iraq. The president also ordered U.S. combat aircraft to be ready to launch airstrikes to protect Americans in Erbil, Iraq.

On August 8, the Pentagon announced that at approximately 6:45 a.m. EDT, the U.S. military conducted a targeted airstrike against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terrorists.

Two F/A-18 aircraft dropped 500-pound laser-guided bombs on a mobile artillery piece near Erbil. ISIL was using this artillery to shell Kurdish forces defending Erbil where U.S. personnel are located. The decision to strike was made by the U.S. Central Command commander under authorization granted him by the commander in chief. As the president made clear, the United States military will continue to take direct action against ISIL when they threaten our personnel and facilities. 

Pentagon releases indicate that to date, U.S. military aircraft have delivered more than 52,000 meals and more than 10,600 gallons of fresh drinking water to the displaced Yezidis seeking refuge from ISIL on the mountain.

USCG Erbil which remains open is headed by Joseph Pennington, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service who assumed his duties as Consul General in Erbil in July 2013.  Prior to his arrival in Erbil, Mr. Pennington served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Prague, Czech Republic (2010-13) and held the same position in Yerevan, Armenia (2007-10).

USCG Basrah is headed by Matthias Mitman, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service who assumed post as Consul General in Basrah in September 2013.  He previously served as the Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) at the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa, Honduras from 2011-2013 and as the Minister Counselor for Economic Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow from 2009-2011. He was the Director for Iraq at the National Security Council from 2006-2008 with responsibility for U.S. economic policy in Iraq and international engagement.  Before joining the NSC staff, Mr. Matthias was assigned to U.S. Embassy Baghdad as Senior Economic Advisor.

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U.S. Embassy Liberia Now on Ordered Departure For Family Members, New Travel Warning Issued

– Domani Spero

 

On August 7, the State Department ordered the departure of all family members not employed at the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia, Liberia.  The new Travel Warning issued today says that the U.S. government employees in Liberia will remain on active duty at the Embassy and additional staff are being deployed to assist the Government of Liberia in addressing the Ebola Virus Disease outbreak.  This follows the departure of  the U.S. Peace Corps from Liberia on July 30 as a result of the current outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease in the region. Yesterday, the CDC also issued a Level 3 warning urging all US residents to avoid nonessential travel to Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia.  

Full State Department statement below:

At the recommendation of the U.S. Embassy in Liberia, the State Department today ordered the departure from Monrovia of all eligible family members (EFMs) not employed by post in the coming days. The Embassy recommended this step out of an abundance of caution, following the determination by the Department’s Medical Office that there is a lack of options for routine health care services at major medical facilities due to the Ebola outbreak. We are reconfiguring the Embassy staff to be more responsive to the current situation. Our entire effort is currently focused on assisting U.S. citizens in the country, the Government of Liberia, international health organizations, local non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and the Liberian people to deal with this unprecedented Ebola outbreak.

We remain deeply committed to supporting Liberia and regional and international efforts to strengthen the capacity of the Liberian health care infrastructure and system – specifically, their capacity to contain and control the transmission of the Ebola virus, and deliver health care. Additional staff from various government agencies including 12 disease prevention specialists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a 13-member Disaster Assistance Response Team from USAID are deploying to Liberia to assist the Liberian Government in addressing the Ebola outbreak.

A new Travel Warning for Liberia also came out today indicating that the ordered departure of USG family members will begin tomorrow, August 8. The new warning also advised travelers that some airlines have discontinued service and flights to Liberia and that air carriers chartered by medical evacuation insurance companies may not be able to provide timely services in Liberia or the region. Excerpt below:

In May 2014, a case of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) was confirmed in Liberia, marking the first case in a second wave of the EVD outbreak. Since then, EVD has continued to spread and intensify. The latest wave of the outbreak has overwhelmed Liberia’s health system and most health facilities lack sufficient staff or resources to address the continuing transmission of EVD.  Options for obtaining routine medical care are severely limited.  For more information concerning EVD, please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.  Please direct inquiries regarding U.S. citizens in Liberia to EbolaEmergencyUSC@state.gov. Callers in the United States and Canada may dial the toll free number 1-888-407-4747.  Callers outside the United States and Canada may dial 1-202-501-4444.

If you arrive in Liberia and subsequently need routine or emergency medical care, you should expect limited, if any, options.  Travelers are advised that air carriers chartered by medical evacuation insurance companies may not be able to provide timely services in Liberia or the region.  Policyholders should confirm the availability of medical evacuation services prior to travel.  While commercial flights are still available from Monrovia, some airlines have discontinued service and flights may become more difficult to obtain.  If you plan to visit Liberia despite this warning, you should purchase travel insurance that includes medical evacuation, and confirm that the coverage applies to the circumstances in Liberia.

According to USAID , the deployed staff came from the Agency’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA)  and will be overseeing critical areas of the response, such as planning, operations, logistics in coordination with other federal agencies, including the U.S. Departments of Defense and Health and Human Services. Members of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are also on the DART to lead on public health and medical response activities.

USAID has already provided $2.1 million to the UN World Health Organization and UNICEF for the deployment of more than 30 technical experts and other Ebola response efforts.

Two days ago, USAID also announced an additional $5 million in assistance to help ramp up the international community’s Ebola response efforts. This new funding will support outreach campaigns via radio, text messages, and through local media as well as the expansion of Ebola outbreak programs the Agency is already supporting in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. These programs help trace people who may be infected with the disease, as well as provide health clinics and households with hygiene kits, soap, bleach, gloves, masks, and other supplies to help prevent the spread of disease.

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Snapshot: Afghanistan Provincial Reconstruction Teams

– Domani Spero

 

According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), the May 20-21, 2012, NATO summit in Chicago expressed agreement to phase out the PRTs in Afghanistan by the end of 2014. The July 2014 CRS report also indicates that as of December 1, 2013, 12 PRTs have been transferred to Afghan control, and that the remaining 16 are to be transferred by the end of 2014.  District Support Teams (DSTs), which help district officials provide government services, are to close by the end of 2014 as well.  USAID and CRS calculations put the PRT projects cost (development and local governance) from FY2001 to 2011 at over USD $1.2 billion.

 

Screen Shot 2014-08-03

Screen Shot 2014-08-03

 

Below via the CRS:

The PRTs, the concept for which was announced in December 2002, have performed activities ranging from resolving local disputes to coordinating local reconstruction projects, although most U.S.-run PRTs and most PRTs in combat-heavy areas focused on counterinsurgency. Many of the additional U.S.civilian officials deployed to Afghanistan during 2009 and 2010 were based at PRTs, which have facilities, vehicles, and security. Some aid agencies say they felt more secure since the PRT program began,49 but several relief groups did not want to associate with military forces because doing so might taint their perceived neutrality. Virtually all the PRTs, listed in Table 15, were placed under the ISAF mission. Each PRT operated by the United States has had U.S. forces to train Afghan security forces; DOD civil affairs officers; representatives of USAID, State Department, and other agencies; and Afghan government (Interior Ministry) personnel. USAID officers assigned to the PRTs administer PRT reconstruction projects. USAID spending on PRT projects is in the table at the end of this report.
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Despite the benefits, President Karzai consistently criticized the PRTs as holding back Afghan capacity-building and repeatedly called for their abolition as “parallel governing structures.” USAID observers backed some of the criticism, saying that there was little Afghan input into PRT development project decision-making or as contractors for PRT-funded construction.

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State Dept Suspends All Embassy Operations in Libya, Relocates Staff Under Armed Escorts

– Domani Spero

 

Updated on 7/27/14 with media reports on number of evacuees.

In the early morning of July 26, the State Department finally suspended all embassy operations in Libya and evacuated all its staff overland to Tunisia, due to ongoing violence between Libyan militias in the immediate vicinity of the embassy in Tripoli.  The new preferred official term for these personnel movements now appears to be “relocation,”perhaps to avoid any negative connotation that might be attached to the use of the term “evacuation.” So this is a relocation but under armed escorts.

The State Department also  released an updated Travel Warning for Libya (excerpt below):

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens against all travel to Libya and recommends that U.S. citizens currently in Libya depart immediately.  On July 26, the U.S. Embassy suspended all embassy operations in Libya and relocated staff, due to ongoing violence between Libyan militias in the immediate vicinity of the Embassy.  This Travel Warning supersedes the Travel Warning issued on May 27, 2014.

Please direct inquiries regarding U.S. citizens in Libya to LibyaEmergencyUSC@state.gov.  Callers in the United States and Canada may dial the toll free number 1-888-407-4747.  Callers outside the United States and Canada may dial 1-202-501-4444.

The security situation in Libya remains unpredictable and unstable.  The Libyan government has not been able to adequately build its military and police forces and improve security following the 2011 revolution.  Many military-grade weapons remain in the hands of private individuals, including antiaircraft weapons that may be used against civilian aviation.  Crime levels remain high in many parts of the country.  In addition to the threat of crime, various groups have called for attacks against U.S. citizens and U.S. interests in Libya.  Extremist groups in Libya have made several specific threats this year against U.S. government officials, citizens, and interests in Libya.  Because of the presumption that foreigners, especially U.S. citizens, in Libya may be associated with the U.S. government or U.S. NGOs, travelers should be aware that they may be targeted for kidnapping, violent attacks, or death.  U.S. citizens currently in Libya should exercise extreme caution and depart immediately.

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The status of the country’s interim government remains uncertain.  The newly elected Council of Representatives is scheduled to convene by August 4, but political jockeying continues over where and when to seat the parliament.  Heavy clashes between rival factions erupted in May 2014 in Benghazi and other eastern cities.  In Tripoli, armed groups have contested territory near Tripoli International Airport since July 13, rendering the airport non-operational.  State security institutions lack basic capabilities to prevent conflict, and there remains a possibility of further escalation.

 

Read in full here. For previous warning see New Libya Travel Warning, Amphibious Assault Ship USS Bataan (LHD 5) Sails Closer.

Closure of an embassy indicates the termination of diplomatic relations, and that has not happened here. Here is Secretary Kerry emphasizing that this is a suspension of embassy operations not a closure.

 

American officials told NBC that 158 Americans, including 80 heavily armed U.S. Marines, left the embassy compound early Saturday.  The Daily Beast reported that “158 U.S. diplomats and 80 U.S. Marines evacuated the American embassy in Tripoli, Libya.” A variation of those two numbers have been widely reported in the media. The US Embassy in Tripoli had a skeleton crew prior to the evacuation, so “158 U.S. diplomats” evacuated from Tripoli is a questionable number.  Perhaps the only  one who got closest to the number evacuated is Reuters, reporting that “the eight or so U.S. diplomats who had been in Libya and a security staff numbering 200 or more drove out of the country on Saturday under a heavy escort….”

In any case, the last time the State Department suspended its operation in Libya was in February 2011. (See State Dept Suspends US Embassy Operations in #Libya, Withdraws All Personnel). It was subsequently reopened in September 2011. Following the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, the State Department ordered the departure of all non-emergency U.S. government personnel from Libya on September 12, 2012 but did not appear to suspend operations then (if it did, we missed it). See our related Libya posts here.

The current suspension of embassy operations follows the temporary withdrawal of  the United Nations Support Mission (UNSMIL) staff from Libya last July 14. That UN convoy reportedly left Tripoli by road headed for the Tunisian border, 170 kilometres (110 miles) to the west.  Yesterday, July 25, the Turkish Foreign Ministry also announced the suspension of its mission’s operations in Tripoli for security reasons and the evacuation of more than 500 Turkish nationals similarly via Tunisia.

The State Department’s media note this morning :

This relocation was done over land, with our personnel arriving in Tunisia this morning, and traveling onward from there. We are grateful to the Government of Tunisia for its cooperation and support.

Something else to note about an evacuation unfolding in the age of social media.  During the evac, Libyan tweeps reported “3 convoys with total of 27 cars +1  lorry were leaving the US embassy in airport rd. Marines on foot and planes above.”  Other tweets of note:

 

According to Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby, the U.S. military assisted in the relocation of personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, Libya on Saturday, July 26 at the request of the Department of State.  The operation lasted five hours without incident:

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. All embassy personnel were relocated, including the Marine security guards who were providing security at the embassy and during the movement. The embassy staff was driven in vehicles to Tunisia. During movement, F-16’s, ISR assets and an Airborne Response Force with MV-22 Ospreys provided security. The mission was conducted without incident, and the entire operation lasted approximately five hours.

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U.S. Nabs Ahmed Abu Khatallah, Suspected Key Figure in 2012 Benghazi Attack

– Domani Spero

Big scoop via WaPo today:

U.S. Special Operations forces captured one of the suspected ringleaders of the terrorist attacks in Benghazi in a secret raid in Libya over the weekend, the first time one of the accused perpetrators of the 2012 assaults has been apprehended, according to U.S. officials.

The officials said Ahmed Abu Khattala was captured Sunday near Benghazi by American troops, working alongside the FBI, following months of planning, and was now in U.S. custody “in a secure location outside Libya.” The officials said there were no casualties in the operation, and that all U.S. personnel involved have safely left Libya.

Read in full: U.S. captures Benghazi suspect in secret raid.

The Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby also released the following statement:

 I can confirm that on Sunday, June 15 the U.S. Military — in cooperation with law enforcement personnel — captured Ahmed Abu Khatallah, a key figure in the attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, in September 2012. He is in U.S. custody in a secure location outside of Libya. There were no civilian casualties related to this operation, and all U.S. personnel involved in the operation have safely departed Libya.

Below is a collection of tweets on Ahmed Abu Khattala, who apparently was not shy about giving interviews to the media in the past year or so:

 

Here is also a Reuters interview from 2012 —  Mystery deepens about US enemy No. 1 in Libya. Yesterday, a day after Khattala was captured,but before it was publicly released, there apparently was an ugly Benghazi panel over in D.C. WaPo’s Dana Milbank reports about that here. Politico wades in, also the Daily Beast here.

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US Mission Iraq: Now on Partial “Temporary Relocation” To Basra, Erbil & Amman (Jordan)

– Domani Spero

On June 15, the State Department issued a statement that Embassy Baghdad “remains open and will continue to engage daily with Iraqis and their elected leaders.” Also that the embassy is reviewing its staffing requirement as it anticipates additional U.S. government security personnel in light of ongoing instability and violence in the country. It also announced that some Embassy Baghdad staff will be “temporarily relocated – both to our Consulate Generals in Basra and Erbil and to the Iraq Support Unit in Amman.”

Map via CIA World Fact Book

Map via CIA World Fact Book

CNN is now reporting that between 50 and 100 U.S. Marines and U.S. Army personnel have arrived at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

The Pentagon statement on June 15 says that “The temporary relocation of some embassy personnel is being facilitated aboard commercial, charter and State Department aircraft, as appropriate.”

The official statements use “temporary relocation” to describe this movement of personnel, which includes relocation to Amman, Jordan. Is this an attempt to avoid the negative connotation associated with the  term “evacuation.” Similarly, in early June, US Embassy Tripoli went on drawdown of personnel without ever announcing whether it went on evac status (See Did US Embassy Tripoli Go on “Sort of a Drawdown” Without Going on Evacuation Status?).

The official statement on Embassy Baghdad also says that “a substantial majority of the U.S. Embassy presence in Iraq will remain in place and the Embassy will be fully equipped to carry out its national security mission.” The mission was expected to reduce its headcount to 5,500 in January 2014.  If that in fact happened earlier this year, we can still expect a remaining staff of at least 2,750 plus whatever number you consider amounts to a “substantial majority.”
Below is the State Department statement:

The United States strongly supports Iraq and its people as they face security challenges from violent extremists.  The people of Iraq have repeatedly rejected violent extremism and expressed their desire to build a better society for themselves and for their children.

The Embassy of the United States in Baghdad remains open and will continue to engage daily with Iraqis and their elected leaders – supporting them as they strengthen Iraq’s constitutional processes and defend themselves from imminent threats.

As a result of ongoing instability and violence in certain areas of Iraq, Embassy Baghdad is reviewing its staffing requirements in consultation with the State Department.  Some additional U.S. government security personnel will be added to the staff in Baghdad; other staff will be temporarily relocated – both to our Consulate Generals in Basra and Erbil and to the Iraq Support Unit in Amman.  Overall, a substantial majority of the U.S. Embassy presence in Iraq will remain in place and the Embassy will be fully equipped to carry out its national security mission.

We advise U.S. citizens in Iraq to exercise caution and limit travel to Anbar, Ninawa, Salah ad-Din, Diyala, and Kirkuk provinces; make their own contingency emergency plans; and maintain security awareness at all times.  

Below is the DOD statement via the American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 15, 2014 – At the State Department’s request, the U.S. military is providing security assistance for U.S. diplomatic facilities in Baghdad, Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said today.

In a statement, Kirby said a small number of Defense Department personnel are augmenting State Department security assets in Baghdad to help ensure the safety of U.S. facilities.

“The temporary relocation of some embassy personnel is being facilitated aboard commercial, charter and State Department aircraft, as appropriate,” Kirby added. “The U.S. military has airlift assets at the ready should State Department request them, as per normal interagency support arrangements.”

 

Our military airlift asset is at the ready.  Depending on what happens next, we might be hearing more about a noncombatant evacuation operation (NEO). This gave us an excuse to revisit DOD’s  joint publication on NEOs:

The State Department (DOS), acting on the advice of the ambassador, will determine when US noncombatants and foreign nationals are to be evacuated. When unexpected violence flares up or appears imminent and communications with the DOS are cut off, the ambassador may invoke such elements of the plan and initiate such actions as the situation warrants.

During NEOs the US ambassador, not the combatant commander (CCDR) or subordinate joint force commander (JFC), is the senior United States Government (USG) authority for the evacuation and, as such, is ultimately responsible for the successful completion of the NEO and the safety of the evacuees. The decision to evacuate a US embassy and the order to execute a NEO is political.

And —  we don’t even have an ambassador in Baghdad. On June 11, Ambassador Robert S. Beecroft,  still listed as our U.S.ambassador to Iraq went before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) for his confirmation hearing as our next ambassador to Egypt.  The nominee for Embassy Baghdad, Ambassador Stuart E. Jones (previously of US Embassy Jordan) also went before the committee on the same day. Read his testimony here (pdf).

The Beecroft and Jones nominations as far as we could tell have yet to make it out of the SFRC.  The State Department’s Key Officers list published this month includes John P. Desrocher as DCM for Embassy Baghdad.  Mr. Desrocher previously served as the U.S. Consul General in Auckland, New Zealand.  In 2010, he was the Director of the Office of Iraq Affairs at the State Department.

The Deputy Assistant Secretary for Iraq and Iran Brett McGurk tweeted on June 13: “In , have been meeting intensively with leaders across the political spectrum and conferring with our national security team in DC.”

Embassy Baghdad has not listed a chargé d’affaires on its website; we don’t know who is in charge of the mission. Post has not responded to our inquiry as of this writing.

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US Embassy Ulaanbaatar Gets First Ever Marine Security Guard Detachment

– Domani Spero

 

Via US Embassy Mongolia:

On May 23, 2014,  U.S. Embassy Ulaanbaatar held a welcome ceremony to institute the first ever U.S. Marine Security Guard detachment in the Embassy. Ambassador Piper Campbell expressed her delight at having Marines serving at the Embassy Ulaanbaatar.  The Ambassador concluded her speech with a quote from 1885, “The Marines have landed and the situation is well in hand.”

U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Adam Zybert thanked the Embassy for the work in preparing for the Marines’ arrival.  He quoted Ronald Reagan “Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in the world. But, the Marines don’t have that problem”, and continued “If President Reagan were still here today, I believe he would say the U.S. Embassy Ulaanbaatar does not have that problem either”.

As part of the ceremony, the Marine Security Guards presented the colors for the raising of the flag in the Embassy compound.

U.S. Embassy Ulaanbaatar held a welcome ceremony to institute the first ever U.S. Marine Security Guard detachment in the Embassy.

Ambassador Piper Campbell during U.S. Embassy Ulaanbaatar’s welcome ceremony to institute the first ever U.S. Marine Security Guard detachment in the Embassy.

 

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New Libya Travel Warning, Amphibious Assault Ship USS Bataan (LHD 5) Sails Closer

– Domani Spero

 

Today via CNN’s Barbara Starr:

At the May 27 Daily Press Briefing, the State Department spox was asked about the warship that’s headed towards the coast of Libya.  Here is the official word:

MS. PSAKI: Well, we, I believe, announced that a week or two ago, and that was a step that was taken to be prepared to protect U.S. personnel and facilities in U.S. installations in North Africa, so that’s been in place. It’s a step we’ve taken in the past. But the reasoning – that was the reasoning for doing that.

Asked about an “ordered departure” for Embassy Tripoli, Ms. Psaki said  the State Department “continue to review the situation and address Embassy security needs.” She did not make any new announcement concerning the evacuation of personnel except to say that  “any changes to staffing at any post would be announced through a travel warning.”

On May 27, the State Department also issued a new Travel Warning for Libya recommending that U.S. citizens in the country “depart immediately.” The new warning made no mention of the possible reduction of staff or evacuation of personnel:

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens against all travel to Libya and recommends that U.S. citizens currently in Libya depart immediately. Due to security concerns, the Department of State has limited staffing at Embassy Tripoli and is only able to offer very limited emergency services to U.S. citizens in Libya.  This Travel Warning supersedes the Travel Warning issued on December 12, 2013.

The security situation in Libya remains unpredictable and unstable.  The Libyan government has not been able to adequately build its military and police forces and improve security following the 2011 revolution.  Many military-grade weapons remain in the hands of private individuals, including antiaircraft weapons that may be used against civilian aviation.  Crime levels remain high in many parts of the country.  In addition to the threat of crime, various groups have called for attacks against U.S. citizens and U.S. interests in Libya.  Extremist groups in Libya have made several specific threats this year against U.S. government officials, citizens, and interests in Libya.  Because of the presumption that foreigners, especially U.S. citizens, in Libya may be associated with the U.S. government or U.S. NGOs, travelers should be aware that they may be targeted for kidnapping, violent attacks, or death.  U.S. citizens currently in Libya should exercise extreme caution and depart immediately.

Read in full here.

News report says that USS Bataan has a thousand Marines on board.  The USS Bataan (LHD 5) is part of the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group (BATARG) and 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit which deployed  on Feb. 8, 2014 from the Naval Station in Norfolk,Virginia  for an eight-month assignment in the U.S Navy’s 5th and 6th Fleet area of responsibility.

According to the U.S. Navy, the USS Bataan has a complement of 104 officers, 1,004 enlisted personnel and a Marine Force of 1,894 (plus 184 surge).  It has the following aircraft: twelve CH-46 Sea Knight Helicopters, four CH-53E Sea Stallion helicopters, six AV-8B Harrier attack aircraft, three UH-1N Huey helicopters, four AH-1W Super Cobra helicopters and a planned capability to embark MV-22 Osprey VTOL tilt-rotors.

The USS Bataan was most recently in Jordan to participate in Exercise Eager Lion 2014a 12-day annual military exercise involving 8,000 personnel from 19 countries.

The USS Bataan (LHD-5) prepares to dock at the Royal Jordanian Naval Base in the Port of Aqaba in Jordan to participate in training scenarios with regional partners during Exercise Eager Lion 2014, May 23. Exercise Eager Lion is a recurring, multi-national exercise designed to strengthen military-to-military relationships and enhance regional security and stability by responding to modern-day security scenarios. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. James A. Hall/Released)

The USS Bataan (LHD-5) prepares to dock at the Royal Jordanian Naval Base in the Port of Aqaba in Jordan to participate in training scenarios with regional partners during Exercise Eager Lion 2014, May 23. Exercise Eager Lion is a recurring, multi-national exercise designed to strengthen military-to-military relationships and enhance regional security and stability by responding to modern-day security scenarios. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. James A. Hall/Released)

USS Bataan2

Aviation Boatswain’s Mate Airman Michael Gable, of Peachtree City, Ga., directs an CH-53E Super Stallion onto the flight deck aboard the multipurpose amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD 5) during exercise Eager Lion 2014 in preparation for training with multinational partners to demonstrate interoperability. The Bataan Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and embarked 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit are participating in exercise Eager Lion 2014, which is a multinational exercise designed to strengthen military-to-military relationships and enhance security and stability in the region by responding to modern-day security scenarios. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Mark Hays)

Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa staff members watch an AV-8B Harrier jet with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 263 (Reinforced), 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), land aboard the USS Bataan (LHD 5). The 22nd MEU is deployed with the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group as a theater reserve and crisis response force throughout U.S. Central Command and the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Caleb McDonald/Released)

Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa staff members watch an AV-8B Harrier jet with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 263 (Reinforced), 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), land aboard the USS Bataan (LHD 5). The 22nd MEU is deployed with the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group as a theater reserve and crisis response force throughout U.S. Central Command and the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Caleb McDonald/Released)

The Bataan Amphibious Ready Group (BATARG) was previously on Libya duty in the Med in 2011.  In April 2014, the Marines and Navy sailors of the 22nd MEU and the Bataan marked the 72nd anniversary of the start of the Bataan Death March for which the USS Bataan (LHD 5) was named.  The March was the forced transfer of 60,000-80,000 Filipino and American prisoners of war by the Imperial Japanese Army, following the Battle of Bataan in the Philippines. The ship is on Facebook, and while not prolific, it tweets @LHD5.

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US Embassy Libya: Post Drawdown Soon, Marine Air-to-Ground Task Force At The Ready

– Domani Spero

We understand that US Embassy Tripoli will soon be on drawdown. We don’t know yet if this will be an authorized or ordered departure for personnel or temporary post closure.

On May 19, we blogged about the U.S. Embassy in Libya. (See US Embassy Libya: Decision to Evacuate Grows By the Minute, Satterfield as Libya Envoy. Amidst reports in the couple of days that the US Embassy in Tripoli is poised to be evacuated, the State Department spokesperson yesterday said that those reports are inaccurate.  “We have not made decisions to move any of our personnel out of Libya. We continue to review the situation. It’s incredibly fluid, and obviously we can make decisions quickly to address embassy security needs. But those reports are inaccurate at this point,” said Jen Psaki.

Ms. Psaki also indicated that Ambassador Deborah Jones, who on May 21 participated in the speakers series at the Stimson Center in D.C. (see the c-span coverage here) will be “returning to Tripoli in the near future.”

On the appointment of Ambassador David Satterfield, Ms. Psaki was asked in what capacity was he doing this contact with the Libyans. Here is the official response:

MS. PSAKI: Well, the Secretary asked him to travel with him last week, and he has obviously – as you know, has an extensive background as a foreign diplomat. And so he traveled to Libya in – as a private citizen to help build political consensus at this challenging time. And obviously, he sat in with him during the meeting with the Quint last week.

More on the Libya hands — no special envoy but there is a Special Coordinator for Libya.

QUESTION: Is he [Satterfield] a special envoy to Libya now?

MS. PSAKI: No, I’m not giving him a title. He was there – as you know, his specific position is as Director-General of the Multinational Force and Observers, the MFO. So he’ll continue to fulfill his duties in that capacity. Jonathan Winer, who you also may know, visited Tripoli in February in his role as Special Coordinator for Libya and met with a variety of Libyan and international partners, and he’s working closely with Ambassador Satterfield and our NEA team.

QUESTION: So Ambassador Satterfield is actually not at the moment a State Department employee –

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: — or a U.S. diplomat. He works with the Multinational Force, which is a UN –

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: — organization.

QUESTION: Yes, please. Just to –

[…]

QUESTION: Yeah. Just to clarify this point – I mean, still U.S. Ambassador is there, right?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, Deborah Jones. She was out of the country – out of Libya for some prior scheduled travel, and so –

Jonathan Winer, the new Special Coordinator for Libya was previously appointed by the State Department as Senior Advisor for MEK Resettlement in 2013.  In that capacity, he was tasked with overseeing USG efforts to help resettle the residents of Camp Hurriya to permanent, and secure locations outside of Iraq. He also previously served as chief counsel and principal legislative assistant to then Senator Kerry for 10 years and was a DAS at INL.

Where are the Marines?

Over at the Pentagon spokesman Read Admiral Kirby said that “There’s been no request for military operations or assistance in Libya. And that’s — obviously, that’s going to be a State Department call. And I think you heard the State Department speak very clearly that there’s been no change to their embassy operations there in Tripoli.”

The press briefing was on May 20, so possibly OBE already. 

The first ever landing (touch and go) of a V-22 Osprey aboard the USS Ashland (LSD-48), underway in the Leyte Gulf, Philippines. Boatswain's Mate Third Class Brian Sherlock, of Tucson, Arizona, directs the first-ever landing of this type aircraft aboard. BM3 Sherlock is the Landing Signalman Enlisted member chosen to direct this operation. (Courtesy Photo by Navy Media Content Services)

The first ever landing (touch and go) of a V-22 Osprey aboard the USS Ashland (LSD-48), underway in the Leyte Gulf, Philippines. Boatswain’s Mate Third Class Brian Sherlock, of Tucson, Arizona, directs the first-ever landing of this type aircraft aboard. BM3 Sherlock is the Landing Signalman Enlisted member chosen to direct this operation.
(Courtesy Photo by Navy Media Content Services)

Calling it a prudent precautionary measure, the Pentagon has moved elements of a Marine air-to-ground task force from their base in Moron, Spain to Sigonella, Sicily.  Apparently, there’s a total of about 250 Marines on Sicily; seven Ospreys; three C-130s as part of this air-to-ground task force. “This was a prudent measure taken by General Rodriguez in consultation with General Breedlove, the European Command commander, and of course, the State Department, to be able to be in a posture and in a location that should they be needed in North Africa, specifically, yes, specifically Libya, that they would be — that they would be ready to do so.”

Today, Wayne White, a former Deputy Director of the State Department’s Middle East/South Asia Intelligence Office (INR/NESA) writes on lobelog.com on why the U.S. should evacuate Libya:

 “There were always those who opposed withdrawing (regardless of the risk of staying), arguing that leaving the countries in question would reduce the US’ ability to influence events on the ground. Of course, in this case, for quite some time now the US and other Western diplomatic missions have had precious little impact on what has been unfolding in Libya.”

The man of the hour, called Libya’s enigmatic General Khalifa Haftar by the BBC apparently has been on different sides of almost every power struggle in Libya since the 1960s.  Since coming to the United States in the early 1990s, he apparently lived in suburban Virginia. According to WaPo, he also became a U.S. citizen — and voted in Virginia in elections in 2008 and 2009.

A possible expatriation case (pdf)? Maybe or maybe not. That depends on whether the  U.S. citizen who serves as a commissioned or noncommissioned officer of a foreign state is engaged/not engaged in hostilities against the United States.

 

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US Embassy Libya: Decision to Evacuate Grows By the Minute, Satterfield as Libya Envoy

– Domani Spero

CNN’s Barbara Starr reports that the U.S. military has doubled the number of aircraft standing by in Italy if needed to evacuate Americans from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, Libya. The violence in country appeared to be some of the worst since the 2011 revolution.

A decision to evacuate as violence in the Libyan capital grows is “minute by minute, hour by hour,” a defense official told CNN on Monday.
[...]

Four additional U.S. V-22 Osprey aircraft “arrived overnight” at the naval base in Sigonella, Italy, to join four V-22s and 200 Marines that had been moved there last week, a U.S. defense source said.

The V-22 Ospreys, which can take off and land vertically with at least two dozen passengers, are ready to be in the air on six hours notice, the official said. The additional aircraft should give the military the capability to evacuate more than 200 people from the embassy.

The aircraft and Marines are part of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response team, stationed in Moron, Spain. The force was formed after the attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi in 2012 to provide closer standby military capability in a crisis.

On May 15, Algeria sent a team of special forces to evacuate its ambassador and some 50 embassy staff from Libya after an attempted raid on the ambassador’s residence according to Libya Herald. The Lebanese diplomats are said to have left and the UAE diplomats reportedly left the country by car to Tunisia.  Today, Saudi Arabia also closed its diplomatic mission in Libya and withdrew all of its diplomatic staff due to security concerns. The Turkish Consulate in Benghazi was also closed today “after a specific threat” according to Tanju Bilgic, spokesman for the Turkish Foreign Ministry.

Meanwhile, at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli where we reportedly have about 200 personnel, the last Twitter update was on May 15 about a job opening at the PA shop.  On Sunday afternoon, Ambassador Deborah Jones tweeted:

We are assuming that the ambassador is not in country and David C. McFarland who is posted in Tripoli through August 2014 as DCM is currently acting as charge.  Mr. McFarland previously served in Cairo, Baghdad, Washington, DC, Yerevan and Ankara. But most notably, he was the Political Section chief  in Tripoli during the Benghazi attack that killed Ambassador Stevens.

Now, here’s the interesting part –ABC News’ Ali Weinberg is reporting that the U.S. is sending a high-level official to help the political process in Libya according to a State Department official. 

Ambassador David Satterfield, who also directs the international monitoring force in the Sinai Peninsula, will keep that role even as he goes to Libya.

“Secretary of State Kerry requested that Ambassador David Satterfield travel to Libya to offer to help build political consensus at this challenging time in Libya’s transition.  He will continue to fulfill his duties as Director General of the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO),” the official said.

It appeared that Satterfield was to get this additional assignment before the events of this weekend, in which forces loyal to retired Gen. Khalifa Hifter stormed the parliament building in Tripoli.

 

So Ambassador Satterfield is still seconded to MFO and how is the State Department going to task him to do things officially?

Ambassador Satterfield previously served as Ambassador to Lebanon (September 1998 to June 2001), and was confirmed as Ambassador to Jordan (2004) but never served in that capacity as he was soon designated as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near East Affairs (NEA). He was also Coordinator for Iraq and Senior Adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2006.  According to his Wikipedia entry, Ambassador Satterfield retired from the Foreign Service in 2009. He was nominated by the US, then appointed Director General of the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) in the Sinai Peninsula, an independent international organization, by the Arab Republic of Egypt and State of Israel, and assumed office on July 1, 2009. In August 2013, he took a leave of absence from his MFO position and was designated by Secretary Kerry to serve temporarily as Chargé d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo until January this year.

He is a well respected diplomat but …. here’s what we don’t get. And apparently, we’re not the only one perplexed about this; there’s a whole floor of folks in Foggy Bottom asking each other why.

We’re not recalling our Senate-confirmed ambassador from her personal travel and sending her back to Tripoli “to help build political consensus.” We’re not giving the current DCM/charge his marching orders. Instead we’re recalling an ambassador who’s been retired since 2009 to midwife this “challenging time in Libya’s transition.” Does that make sense?

We’re hearing that Ambassador Satterfield will reportedly be a special envoy for reconciliation.  Because it makes perfect sense to send a stranger to facilitate reconciliation in a country where cultivating personal relationships is needed before business is conducted. This “request” by Secretary Kerry comes in addition to apparently, the appointment of a former senior advisor  for MEK Resettlement to the Libya portfolio. What about the president’s personal representative?  

 

 

No word yet if Ambassador Jones is heading back to Tripoli or if post is going on evac.

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