Peter Van Buren Writes An Embassy Evacuation Explainer For DipNote No, Reuters

Posted: 01:04 EST

 

On February 11, the State Department  suspended US Embassy operations in Yemen and relocated its remaining skeleton staff outside of the country until further notice.  News report says that more than 25 vehicles were taken by Houthi rebels after the American staff departed Sanaa’s airport.  According to WaPo, Abdulmalek al-Ajri, a member of the Houthis’ political bureau, said that the seized vehicles would be returned to local staff at the U.S. Embassy on Wednesday evening, with a U.N. official observing the handover.

Ajri said the U.S. Embassy was being guarded by Yemeni security forces, which have fallen under the Houthis’ control. The security forces have not entered the embassy compound, which is still being managed by the facility’s local Yemeni staff, he said.
[…]
Ajri said he did not know how many embassy vehicles the group had seized at the airport. He claimed that a fight broke out over the vehicles between local embassy staffers, forcing Houthi fighters to intervene and seize them.

We haven’t heard anything about the return of those vehicles to Embassy Sana’a. As to this purported fight between local embassy staffers over the embassy vehicles, that is simply ridiculous — what, like the local employees are fighting over who could take which armored vehicle home? That’s silly.

What is not silly is that we still have local employees at Embassy Sana’a. They, typically, are not evacuated when post suspends operations.  In 2003, Ghulam Sakhi Ahmadzai, the building maintenance supervisor at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul was  the Foreign Service National Employee of the Year. He was recognized for his exceptional efforts in Afghanistan during the 13-year absence of American employees and following the reopening of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul in December 2001. His loyalty to the U.S. government and to maintaining the integrity of the embassy during that absence, despite personal risk, could not be repaid by that one award. No doubt there are other Ghulams in Tripoli and Sana’a and in other posts where we have suspended operations in the past. Please keep them in your thoughts.

Reading the newsclips and the tweets in the lead up to this latest evacuation, one cannot help but note that most folks do not really know what happens in an evacuation. Former FSO Peter Van Buren wrote a helpful explainer about embassy evacuations for Reuters.  This is an explainer that should have been on DipNote.  For folks who might be upset with this evac explainer, go find those anonymous officials who talked about this evacuation while we still had people on the ground.

The mechanics of closing an embassy follow an established process; the only variable is the speed of the evacuation. Sometimes it happens with weeks of preparation, sometimes with just hours.

Every American embassy has standing evacuation procedures, or an Emergency Action Plan. In each embassy’s emergency plan are built-in, highly classified “trip wires,” or specific thresholds that trigger scripted responses. For example, if the rebels advance past the river, take steps “A through C.” Or if the host government’s military is deserting, implement steps “D through E,” and so forth, until the evacuation is complete.

Early steps include moving embassy dependents, such as spouses and children, out of the country on commercial flights. Next is the evacuation of non-essential personnel, like the trade attaché, who won’t be doing much business if a coup is underway. While these departures are underway, the State Department issues a public advisory notifying private American citizens of the threat. The public alert is required by the U.S.’s “No Double Standard” rule, which grew out of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing of a Pan Am flight. In that case, threat info was made available to embassy families, but kept from the general public.

These embassy drawdown steps are seen as low-cost moves, both because they use commercial transportation, and because they usually attract minimal public attention.

Continue reading, Who gets out when a U.S. embassy closes, and who gets left behind?

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Post Evacuations FY2013, FY2014, Plus Consular Emergencies Funding Request for FY2016

 

The Crisis Management Training office out of FSI has a running tally of posts evacuated in the last two decades but it’s not available to the public. The 2016 budget justification for USAID and the State Department does include a list of posts that went on evac status in FY2013 and FY2014. I think I’ve covered all the post evacution on this list except for the one in Los Cabos, Mexico (how did I miss that?)

Also note that in June 2014, Embassy Baghdad personnel were “temporarily relocated” both to the  Consulate Generals in Basra and Erbil and to the Iraq Support Unit in Amman, Jordan but that personnel movement does not appear to be considered an “evacuation.” Might that be because Iraq constitute a different/separate congressional funding request?

Fiscal Year 2013 Evacuations (October 2012-September 2013)

  1. Adana, Turkey
  2. Algiers, Algeria
  3. Bamako, Mali
  4. Bangui, Central African Republic
  5. Beirut, Lebanon
  6. Cairo, Egypt
  7. Lahore, Pakistan
  8. Niamey, Niger
  9. Sanaa, Yemen
  10. Tripoli, Libya

Fiscal Year 2014 Evacuations (October 2013-September 2014)

  1. Juba, South Sudan
  2. Kyiv, Ukraine
  3. Tripoli, Libya
  4. Monrovia, Liberia
  5. Freetown, Sierra Leone
  6. Maseru, Lesotho
  7. Sanaa, Yemen
  8. Los Cabos, Mexico

Extracted from the 2016 budget request for USAID and the State Department:

EDCS funding is heavily influenced by unpredictable evacuations that may occur as a result of natural disasters, epidemics, terrorist acts, and civil unrest. Recent demands include Sierra time Leone’s Ebola-related emergency evacuation and the evacuation of the embassy in Ukraine due to the ongoing conflict.

Screen Shot 2015-02-05

EDCS also funds certain activities relating to the conduct of foreign affairs by senior Administration officials. These activities generally take place in connection with the U.S. hosting of U.S. Government-sponsored conferences, such as the UN and OAS General Assemblies, the G-20 Summit, the Nuclear Security Summit, the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, the Asian-Pacific Economic (APEC) Summit, and the NATO Summit. In FY 2014, the U.S. hosted the U.S. – Africa Leaders’ Summit. In FY 2015, the U.S. will begin the two-year Chairmanship of the Arctic Council. In FY 2016, the Department will host the Nuclear Security Summit.

Other EDCS activities include presidential, vice presidential, and congressional delegation travel overseas; official visits and official gifts for foreign dignitaries; representation requirements of senior Department officials; rewards for information on international terrorism, narcotics trafficking, transnational organized crime, and war crimes; as well as the expansion of publicity efforts.

 

US Embassy Yemen on Ordered Departure Once Again

– Domani Spero

 

Updated 11/14/14: We were told by an official source a couple days ago that no  public statement was released since this is not a “new” ordered departure (OD) but phase two of original OD order. According to regs, once the Under Secretary of State for Management (“M”) approves the evacuation status for post—either authorized or ordered—the 180-day clock “begins ticking” (by law, an evacuation cannot last longer than 180 days).

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It looks like the U.S. Embassy is on ordered departure once again.  Most recently, the embassy underwent a reduction of personnel in September 2014 (see U.S. Embassy Yemen Now on Evacuation … No, on Temporary Reduction of Staff Status).

 

We’ve been unable to find the formal statement from state.gov or the US Embassy Sanaa website.  Below is the official spox talking about this further reduction of personnel from the Daily Press Briefing of November 10:

QUESTION: There were suggestions that ISIL had laid some bombs or planned to attack the embassy in Sana’a. Obviously, that attack didn’t go ahead, I guess, because we would have heard of it by now. But is that something that you’re aware of? Do you know the details of that?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have specific details on that. I will say – and we put this out earlier today – that in response to changing security – the changing security situation in Yemen, we have further reduced our American personnel working in Yemen. And this ordered departure refers solely to the reduction in staff numbers due to unstable conditions in the host country. Obviously, we’ve all been watching what’s been happening on the ground there, but I don’t believe it was related to a specific threat.

QUESTION: If you’re reducing the staffing, you’d already reduced it once. Who was left to reduce? Who does it – who does this order cover?

MS. PSAKI: Well, for – let me be clear on one thing we – before I get to that point. We are operating on – we reduced it and then we returned staff.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: So we’re operating with reduced staffing until conditions warrant a return, but we still – our consular services are continuing to run, the embassy’s continuing to operate normally, and even consular services have not been affected by implementation of ordered departure.

QUESTION: So it remains open?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: It is open?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: Today —

QUESTION: And I wondered if I could ask also about – the U.S. Treasury unveiled some kind of sanctions against former President Saleh and two commanders from the Houthi.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is that in response to the UN resolution or the UN move that was brought in on Friday? Or is it something that’s separate?

MS. PSAKI: It was, as you know, as a member country of the UN Security Council when they put in place sanctions. And obviously, as a member country, we would do that as well. So the Treasury release, which outlines the specifics of it, of course, makes clear that the action was taken in conjunction with the unanimous UN Security Council action that happened on Friday.

QUESTION: What practical effect will it have on —

MS. PSAKI: Well —

QUESTION: I mean, do they have assets in the United States?

MS. PSAKI: As you know, we don’t typically assess that in a public manner. I can go back to Treasury and see if there’s more. But it means that all assets of those designated that are located in the United States or in control of U.S. persons are frozen and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them. But the fact that this was a UN Security Council resolution and these were names, of course, that were approved, means other member countries would likely be implementing this as well. So it’s not just the United States.

QUESTION: What was it that prompted this action particularly?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’d long, I think, in the UN Security Council resolution – or I should say information they put out, they made clear that this was about individuals who were undermining the political process in Yemen, obstructing the implementation of its political transition as outlined by agreements from November of 2011. So there had been the UN Security Council Resolution 2140 that had been passed to allow for this, and this was just that names were added to that list.

QUESTION: But that – that information that came out on Friday from the – at the UN was pretty specific and quite damning in suggesting that ex-President Saleh conspired with AQAP. Is that – I’m presuming, but I want to make sure, that that is the view of the entire Administration that this guy who Secretary Clinton went and met in Sana’a is actually actively conspiring with one of your – one of the top al-Qaida affiliates.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I think if we look at the last couple of months in Yemen, we’re talking about specific actions that were taken by those who were designated over the course of that time that have prohibited the implementation of some of these transitions that had been approved some time ago. So we’re talking about recent actions, not actions from a couple of years ago.

QUESTION: Any reaction to the formation of the new government?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, sure. We welcome the formation of a new cabinet in Yemen and commend the efforts of President Hadi, Prime Minister Baha, the country’s political leadership, and Yemen’s diverse communities to come together to form an inclusive government that can better meet the aspirations of the Yemeni people. We remain fully committed – firmly committed to supporting all Yemenis as they work to implement the September 21st Peace and National Partnership Agreement, the National Dialogue outcomes, and the Gulf Cooperation Council Initiative, which collectively form the foundation for a peaceful and prosperous Yemen.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on Yemen —

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — I think the Treasury also calls Saleh one of the bigger advocates of violence and so on. But let me ask you, since this – the agreement that saw the transition way back then was brokered by the GC – yeah, the Gulf Cooperation Council, GCC – do you expect them also to impose the same kind of sanctions on Saleh?

MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, individual countries make their decisions, but typically member countries of the UN will follow the UN Security Council resolution.

QUESTION: Because he has – I mean, he has investments and so on in all of these countries and personal loss of money and so on. So this – it’s an area where it can actually have a real bite.

MS. PSAKI: Well, that is the impact of sanctions and why they’re serious when they come from the Security Council.

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U.S. Embassy Yemen Now on Evacuation … No, on Temporary Reduction of Staff Status

– Domani Spero

 

On September 25, the State Department finally ordered the evacuation temporary reduction of USG personnel from the US Embassy in Yemen.  Below is an excerpt from the updated Travel Warning:

The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the high security threat level in Yemen due to terrorist activities and civil unrest.  The Department urges U.S. citizens to defer travel to Yemen and those U.S. citizens currently living in Yemen to depart. This supersedes the Travel Warning for Yemen issued on July 21, 2014.

On September 24, 2014, the Department of State ordered a reduction of U.S. government personnel from Yemen out of an abundance of caution due to the continued civil unrest and the potential for military escalation. The Embassy’s ability to assist U.S. citizens in an emergency and provide routine consular services may be limited. Embassy officers are restricted in their movements and cannot travel outside of Sana’a. In addition, movements within Sana’a are severely constrained and may be further constrained by the fluid security situation.

The security threat level in Yemen is extremely high. The Embassy is subject to frequent unannounced closures.  In May 2014, the Embassy was closed for almost five weeks because of heightened security threats.

Demonstrations continue to take place in various parts of the country and may quickly escalate and turn violent. U.S. citizens are urged to avoid areas of demonstrations, and to exercise extreme caution if within the vicinity of a demonstration.

Read in full here.

In related news, the Official Spokesperson of the State Department released a statement emphasizing that “The Embassy did not suspend operations and will continue to operate, albeit with reduced staff” and that “Consular services have not been affected by this temporary reduction in personnel.”

Serious question — when the USG declares that post is on “temporary reduction” or on “temporary relocation” of personnel, which seems to be the trend these days, are affected personnel considered “evacuees” for allowance and travel purposes?  Or are all the affected personnel put on TDY status to their designated safe havens?  We’re having a hard time locating the citation for “temporary reduction”or “temporary relocation” in the Foreign Affairs Manual.

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Clips via Twitter:

Yesterday:

 

 

Today:

 

 

 

 

State Dept Awards $4.9 Million Contract to Phoenix Air for Air Ambulance Evacuation #Ebola

Domani Spero

 

Yahoo News reported on September 9 that “an undisclosed number of people who’ve been exposed to the Ebola virus — not just the four patients publicly identified with diagnosed cases — have been evacuated to the U.S. by an air ambulance company contracted by the State Department.”  The report identified Phoenix Air Group as the provider of the air ambulance services. The VP of the company said medical privacy laws and his company’s contract with the State Department prevented him from revealing how many exposed patients have been flown from West Africa to the U.S.  He did tell the reported that Phoenix Air has flown 10 Ebola-related missions in the past six weeks. The report also says that the State Department confirmed the four known Ebola patient transports but couldn’t provide details on any exposure evacuations to the United States.  An unnamed State Department official told Yahoo News that “every precaution is taken to move the patient safely and securely, to provide critical care en route, and to maintain strict isolation upon arrival in the United States.”(See Ebola evacuations to US greater than previously known).

Public records indicate that the State Department awarded the air ambulance contract on August 18, 2014.  The sole source contract was awarded to Phoenix Air for a period of six (6) months at an estimated cost of $4,900,000.00 under FAR 6.302-2  for “unusual and compelling urgency.” The services include among others, air ambulance evacuation, a dedicated on-call aircraft and flight crew, an aero-biological containment system, and emergency recall and mission preparedness:

This requirement is in response to Department of State’s diplomatic mission overseas to provide movement of emergency response personnel into and out of hazardous/non-permissive environments and medical evacuation of critically ill/injured patients, including those infected with unique and high contagious pathogens. This is an immediate response to the Ebola Virus Crisis.

The contract justification says that the movement of patients infected with highly contagious pathogens, as with the current Ebola Virus epidemic, requires the use of an air-transportable biocontainment unit. A unit was designed and built by the Center for Disease Control in 2006 in collaboration with the Phoenix Air Group in Cartersville, GA. The Aeromedical Biological Containment Shelter (ABCS) is the only contagious patient airborne transportation system in the world which allows attending medical personnel to enter the containment vessel in-flight to attend to the patient, thus allowing emergency medical intervention such as new IV lines, intubation, etc.

Yes, the Pentagon has a transport tube but —

“The U.S. Department of Defense has a transport “tube” which a patient is placed into, but once sealed inside the patient is isolated from medical care. It is admittedly (by the DOD) more designed for battlefield causalities than live human transport, especially over long distances. It is also only certified for DOD aircraft and not by the FAA for commercial aircraft which makes this capability not feasible in meeting the Department’s urgent need for the capability to transport contagious patients world-wide.”

Why is this a sole-sourced contract?

Below is part of the justification statement extracted from publicly available documents:

As a matter of standard business practice, Phoenix Air Group does not provide chartered transport of highly contagious patients outside of a standing government contract. As the only vendor with this unique capability, Phoenix Air Group has never offered this service on a one-off basis to private of government entities. The capability was developed on a multi-year contract with the CDC (2006-2011). When the CDC could no longer to afford to maintain the stand-by capability, the equipment was warehoused. While it is technically true that the movement of two American citizens in late July, 2014, was a private transaction, those missions were conducted after the Department requested that PAG consider a break in their standard business practice on a humanitarian basis, with the assurance that the USG would make all necessary arrangements for landing clearances, public health integration, decontamination, and provide press guidance. Simply put, the transportation of this type of patient requires too much international and inter-agency coordination, and incurs too much corporate risk, for PAG to provide the service outside the protection of a federal contract to do so.

The U.S. Department of State has always been responsible for the medical evacuation of official Americans overseas, regardless of their USG agency affiliation. Because of the unique severity and scope of the current Ebola outbreak, and the complete lack of host nation infrastructure to support victims of EVD infection, the international community is finding recruitment of professional staff very difficult without being able to articulate a sound medical evacuation plan. To that end, the Governments of Mexico, Japan, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United Arab Emirates, as well as the World Health Organization and the United Nations, have separately approached PAG to establish exclusive contracts for this limited resource. Had the Department not moved very quickly to establish its own exclusive use contract, our negotiating position would have shifted, placing USG personnel and private citizens at significant risk.

The availability of the PAG resource is thus a foreign policy issue, placing the U.S. Department of State as the logical arbiter of international agreements to assure equitable coverage while protecting U.S. national interests. The Department is moving to establish Title 607 agreements with these and other eligible entities, allowing coordinated sharing of the resource on a cost-reimbursable basis under 22 U SC 2357 authorities.

Private American citizens responding to this crisis would lack the resources to privately contract for this service, even if it were available on the open market. By establishing the contract through the Department, additional options are provided to American Citizen Services, allowing them to structure the funding as a form of repatriation loan. This would be very difficult to do if not for a Department-level contract; by bringing the resource in-house, the money flow remains within the Department, spreading the financial risk across a much larger budgeting pool. Foreign governments are being encouraged to take similar steps with their own private citizens through high level dialogue that is only possible when the Department is in the lead on this issue.

Given recent CDC guidelines for the movement of asymptomatic contacts, an unprecedented level of control and coordination is necessary to move these individuals that, despite not being contagious or even clearly infected, are nonetheless quarantined. The USG is left with only two options in supporting a CDC scientist that has a high risk exposure to an EVD patient — use the PAG capability to fly the person back to the US for observation and optimum care should disease develop, or leave the person in place where no care is available if the disease develops. The question, then, is not how many EVD patients will be moved, but rather how many contacts and EVD patients will be moved across the entire international response population (as many as three per month). Finally, from a pragmatic stand point, given the limited options for movement of even asymptomatic contacts, it has become clear that an international response to this crisis will not proceed if a reliable mechanism for patient movement cannot be established and centrally managed.

The “special missions” G-111 aircraft, what is it?

 The ABCS was certified by the Federal Air Administration (FAA) under a Supplemental Type Certification (STC) for use in an aircraft. The STC further lists only two (2) air- craft by serial number as approved for the installation and operation of the ABCS. Both aircraft are owned and operated by Phoenix Air.

The two aircraft listed by serial number in the STC are “special missions” Gulfstream G-III jets owned and operated by Phoenix Air. There are only three “special missions” G-111 aircraft in the world and Phoenix Air owns and operates all three. These are unique aircraft converted in the Gulfstream Aerospace factory during the original manufacturing assembly line from standard “executive” aircraft to “special missions” aircraft which includes a large cargo door forward of the wing measuring 81.5” wide X 61” high thus allowing the large components of the ABCS to be installed in the aircraft and post-flight decontamination to be performed, each aircraft has a heavy duty cargo floor allowing the ABCS floor attachment system to be installed, and each aircraft is certified at the factory for passenger, cargo or air ambulance operations.

Phoenix Air holds various DOD Civil Aircraft Landing Permits (CALP’s) from all U.S DOD service branches allowing its aircraft to land at all U.S. military bases and facilities worldwide. For security reasons, all medical evacuations of patients with highly contagious pathogens must land at military airfields. Recent experience reinforces the importance of using military airfields, especially OCONUS where the host nation governments have refused to allow the aircraft access to civil airports in the Azores, but have conceded to allow the aircraft to refuel on USMIL airfields in their country.

All Phoenix Air flight and medical personnel have the Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems (CAMTS) required accreditation and CDC recommended inoculations for air ambulance missions as well as missions into disease~prone areas around the world providing DOS a unique capability that may not be available with other aviation vendors.

 

Unlike the outbreak of the highly pathogenic avian influenza (H5N1) virus and fears of a pandemic in 2007, one thing we haven’t heard this time is  “shelter-in-place.” Back then, Americans abroad were advised to identify local sources of healthcare and prepare to “shelter-in-place” if necessary. “In those areas with potentially limited water and food availability, Americans living abroad are encouraged to maintain supplies of food and water to last at least two and as long as 12 weeks.” We remember thinking then about the embassy swimming pool and wondering how long it would last if city water runs out. Or what happens if a mob comes into the compound in search of food and water.

That does not seem to be the case here. At least, this time, there will be an air ambulance equipped to evacuate  Americans back home should it come to that. Note that the  justification statement does not include details of how much of the cost will be accounted for as part of the repatriation loan program (pdf) for private Americans.

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U.S. Embassy Lesotho Now on Ordered Departure for Non-Employed Family Members

– Domani Spero

 

On August 30, following a reported coup in Lesotho, the U.S. Embassy in Maseru issued a message to U.S. citizens urging them to “take proper precautions when traveling, such as avoiding areas of potential intimidation, routes of marches, and ongoing demonstrations.” It also advised U.S. citizens who choose to move around the capital city to return to their residences by 5:30 pm and remain there overnight.

CIA map

CIA map

Today, the Embassy Maseru informed the U.S. citizen community in Lesotho that the Department of State has ordered the departure of non-employed family members of U.S. Mission personnel due to concerns over a possible deterioration of the security situation in Lesotho. An “ordered departure” means that family members who are not employed at the U.S. mission, do not have an option to stay in country and must depart.  The Security Message includes the following information:

The Embassy is prepared to assist U.S. citizens who wish to depart from Lesotho and recommends those interested in Embassy assistance to contact us at +266 5888 4035.

The U.S. Embassy in Lesotho will be open September 2-3 for emergency American Citizens Services only. Citizens should be aware that depending on the security situation, the Embassy may be forced to suspend operations without advance notice. The international airport in Maseru is currently operating normally, however, flights may be suspended if the current security situation worsens. Land borders are also open at this time, but may close without warning. U.S. citizens who remain in Lesotho despite this Travel Warning are urged to stay in their homes until the security situation returns to normal, to closely monitor media reports, and to follow all official instructions. U.S. citizens who must leave their homes for any reason are urged to exercise extreme caution, be particularly alert to their surroundings, and to avoid crowds, demonstrations, or any other form of public gathering.

U.S. citizens in Lesotho should carry their travel documents (i.e., passport, birth certificate, picture ID’s, etc.) with them at all times. Additionally, U.S. citizens in the area are reminded to stay in contact with friends and family in the United States to keep them apprised of their current welfare and whereabouts.

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Troops have reportedly mounted raids on police headquarters and police stations in the capital, Maseru, on Saturday and there is confusion over who is in control of the country. To understand political parties and democratization in Lesotho, read this (pdf) publication by the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa.

 

 

Embassy Masesu is a small post with about a couple dozen American employees and about 80 local staff according to a 2010 OIG report. According to a State Department listing, as of August 27, 2014, U.S. Embassy Lesotho is currently headed by DCM/CHG Charge John McNamara. President Obama announced Matthew Harrington as his nominee for Ambassador to Lesotho on August 1, 2013.  Mr. Harrington, a career diplomat, has now been stuck in confirmation purgatory for 395 days.

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U.S. Embassy Sierra Leone Now on Ordered Departure for Family Members #Ebola

– Domani Spero

 

On August 14, the State Department  announced the ordered departure of family members not employed at U.S. Embassy Freetown from Sierra Leone. This follows the ordered departure of family members from U.S. Embassy Liberia on August 7. No Travel Warning has yet been issued for Sierra Leone as of this writing but we expect one coming out soon. Below is the statement of the U.S. Embassy Freetown ordered departure:

At the recommendation of the U.S. Embassy in Sierra Leone, the State Department today ordered the departure from Freetown of all eligible family members (EFMs) not employed by post. 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 Sierra Leone, international health organizations, local non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and the Sierra Leonean people to deal with this unprecedented Ebola outbreak.

We remain deeply committed to supporting Sierra Leone and regional and international efforts to strengthen the capacity of the country’s health care infrastructure and system — specifically, the capacity to contain and control the transmission of the Ebola virus, and deliver health care.

According to the World Health Organization, a total of 128 new cases of Ebola virus disease (EVD) (laboratory-confirmed, probable, and suspect cases) as well as 56 deaths were reported from Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone between August 10-11, 2014. See the disease update from the WHO:

via WHO

via WHO

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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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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.

[…]

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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