Tag Archives: Travel Warning

State Dept Updates Ukraine Travel Warning: Ongoing Violent Clashes in the Eastern Regions

– Domani Spero

 

On August 29, the State Department issued an updated Travel Warning on the risks of traveling to the eastern regions of Ukraine:

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to eastern Ukraine due to ongoing violent clashes between Russia-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. In addition, Russian military forces continue to occupy the Crimean Peninsula and are present on the eastern border of Ukraine.This supersedes the Travel Warning for Ukraine dated August 1 to provide updated information on the security situation in southern and eastern Ukraine.

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens to defer all travel to the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.  Russia-backed separatists continue to control areas in the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts.  These groups have established illegal checkpoints and have threatened, detained, or kidnapped individuals, including U.S. citizens, for hours or days.  The Ukrainian armed forces have launched an operation to reclaim these areas.  Violent clashes between the Russia-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces have escalated over the past month and have resulted in hundreds of injuries and deaths.  Some of these clashes have included the use of armored vehicles, aircraft, and other military weapons including surface to air missiles, the use of which was responsible for the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on July 17.  Widespread disorder and looting has been confirmed in areas controlled by Russia-backed separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts.  These Russian-supported groups have taken on a more strident anti-American tone, especially in eastern Ukraine and Crimea.  U.S. citizens who choose to remain in conflict areas should maintain a low profile and avoid large crowds and gatherings.

The Department of State also warns U.S. citizens to defer all travel to the Crimean Peninsula, and to exercise caution in the regions of Odesa, Kharkhiv, Zaporizhia and Kherson.  Russian forces have occupied the Crimean Peninsula in support of the Russian Federation’s attempted annexation of Crimea and these forces are likely to continue to take further actions in the Crimean Peninsula consistent with Russia’s continuing occupation of this part of Ukraine.  The international community, including the United States and Ukraine, does not recognize this purported annexation.  The Russian Federation maintains an extensive military presence in Crimea and along the border of eastern Ukraine.  In addition, there are continuing reports of abuses against the local population by de facto authorities in Crimea, particularly against those who are seen as challenging the current status quo on the peninsula

The situation in Ukraine is unpredictable and could change quickly.  U.S. citizens throughout Ukraine should avoid large crowds and be prepared to remain indoors and shelter in place for extended periods of time should clashes occur in their vicinity.

Peace Corps Volunteers departed Ukraine on February 25, and remain out of the country at this time.  U.S. Embassy Kyiv’s Consular Section is open for all public services; however, in light of the ongoing unrest, the Embassy has severely restricted the travel of U.S. Government personnel to areas in eastern Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula, and occasionally limits travel to other adjacent regions.  As a result, the Embassy’s ability to respond to emergencies involving U.S. citizens in eastern Ukraine and Ukraine’s Crimean region is extremely limited.

Ground transportation may be disrupted throughout the country.  Drivers may encounter roadblocks that restrict access on certain roads.  Following the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) to prohibit all U.S. flight operations within Dnipropetrovsk Flight Information Regions.  This expanded the FAA’s previous NOTAM restricting U.S. flight operations within the

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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New Travel Warning for Yemen — Don’t Come; If In Country, Leave! But Some Can’t Leave

– Domani Spero

 

On July 21, the State Department updated its Travel Warning for Yemen urging Americans to defer travel to Yemen and for those living there to depart the country:

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 January 29, 2014.

The U.S. Embassy in Sana’a remains a restricted staffing post.  This limits the Embassy’s ability to assist U.S. citizens in an emergency and provide routine consular services. 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.

Terrorist organizations, including Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), continue to be active throughout Yemen. The U.S. government remains highly concerned about possible attacks on U.S. citizens (whether visiting or residing in Yemen), and U.S. facilities, businesses, and perceived U.S. and Western interests.

Read the full release here.

The very next day, Yemeni Americans were on the news.  US citizens in Yemen accused the  American embassy of confiscating their passports.  The State Department reportedly is withholding fraudulent passports, but rights groups say Yemeni Americans are being unfairly targeted.

 

Leaving the country without a regular passport would be difficult but perhaps not impossible.

Back in January, we blogged about this. (See US Embassy Yemen: Revocation of U.S. Passports, a Growing Trend?  At that time,a State Department official who spoke on background told us that citizens with revoked passports “may be provided with a limited validity passport for a direct return to the United States.” That is, based on the circumstances of the case. Earlier, we’ve prodded that CA/Embassy Sana’a provide guidance on how to file an appeal in revocation cases on its website.  To-date, there is nothing online in terms of guidance on appealing these cases.

Passport revocations are not the only thing that seem to be surging in Yemen.

Last month, Embassy Sana’a announced that U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Matthew H. Tueller, along with Embassy Sana’a Consular staff, hosted a “Super Saturday” event to register the births of children born in Yemen who are eligible for American citizenship.  Consular staff volunteers reportedly assisted more than 120 Americans and Yemeni-American dual nationals residing in Yemen complete Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA) forms to document the U.S. citizenship of their children.

U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Matthew H. Tueller, along with Embassy Sana’a Consular staff, hosted a special weekend event to register the births of children born in Yemen who are eligible for American citizenship

U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Matthew H. Tueller, along with Embassy Sana’a Consular staff, hosted a special weekend event to register the births of children born in Yemen who are eligible for American citizenship. (photo via US Embassy Sana’a/FB)

In 2010, the State Department estimated the number of U.S. citizens in Yemen at  over 55,000. This past June, the US Embassy in Sana’a says that it serves more than 73,000 American citizens residing in Yemen. The embassy also expects to process  7,000 Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA) for this year alone.  This at a high fraud post with limited staffing.

This is not the first time that the U.S. has told its nationals to leave Yemen.  And so far, there has been no talk of an evacuation.  The embassy is already on restricted staffing but should the embassy shutdown, the evacuation of Yemen’s American citizen population would be a logistical nightmare and could potentially dwarf the evacuation of nearly 15,000 American citizens from Lebanon in 2006.

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US Embassy Kenya: Also “Relocating” Staff to Other Countries #NotAnEvacuationEither

– Domani Spero

 

At the Daily Press Briefing on June 16, 2014, the State Department spox said this about the relocation of Embassy Baghdad personnel to Basra, Erbil and Amman Jordan (US Mission Iraq: Now on Partial “Temporary Relocation” To Basra, Erbil & Amman (Jordan):

QUESTION: Would you call this an evacuation?

MS. PSAKI: No, we would not.

QUESTION: Is it just a chance to have some members of the embassy work remotely?

MS. PSAKI: It is a situation, Lucas, where we evaluate the security and – on the ground. And at our posts and embassies around the world we made a decision that the right step here was to relocate some of our staff to other parts of Iraq and to a supporting neighboring country and so that’s the step we took and that’s why we took it.

QUESTION: And –

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: — hold on. Just to follow up –

MS. PSAKI: But let me reiterate one thing: Our embassy staff and our embassy is open and operating. Our diplomatic team at the highest levels is engaged closely with the Iraqis and that will continue.

QUESTION: But it just has a fifth of the amount of personnel as it did before.

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into specific numbers, but again, a range of these employees are temporarily relocating – temporarily – to some other areas in Iraq, and again a close neighboring country.

A landing craft air cushioned assigned to Beach Master Unit 1 arrives to offload vehicles supporting a mock embassy evacuation during Rim of the Pacific 2008. RIMPAC is the world's largest multinational exercise and is scheduled biennially by the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Participants include the United States, Australia, Canada, Chile, Japan, the Netherlands, Peru, Republic of Korea, Singapore, and the United Kingdom. Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Walter Pels

MOCK EMBASSY EVACUATION | A landing craft air cushioned assigned to Beach Master Unit 1 arrives to offload vehicles supporting a mock embassy evacuation during Rim of the Pacific 2008. RIMPAC is the world’s largest multinational exercise and is scheduled biennially by the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Participants include the United States, Australia, Canada, Chile, Japan, the Netherlands, Peru, Republic of Korea, Singapore, and the United Kingdom.
Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Walter Pels

 

Today, the State Department issued a new Travel Warning for Kenya. It further announced that the Embassy is “relocating some staff to other countries” but that “the Embassy will remain open for normal operations.”  The relocation is not specifically called “authorized” or “ordered” departure.  The announcement only says “some staff”and it is not clear whether these are family members or non-essential personnel they are evacuating relocating.  We take it this is not considered an evacuation either?  Is this a new trend? When can we see this in the DSSR? (Also see US Embassy Kenya: Isn’t That Travel Warning Odd or What?).

The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to Kenya.  The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to Kenya.  U.S. citizens in Kenya, and those considering travel to Kenya, should evaluate their personal security situation in light of continuing and recently heightened threats from terrorism and the high rate of violent crime in some areas.  Due to the terrorist attack on June 15 in Mpeketoni, in Lamu County, the U.S. Embassy instituted restrictions on U.S. government personnel travel to all coastal counties – Mombasa, Kwale, Kilifi, Lamu, and the coastal portion only of Tana River County.

Based on the recent changes in Kenya’s security situation, the Embassy is also relocating some staff to other countries.  However, the Embassy will remain open for normal operations.  This replaces the Travel Warning of May 17, 2014, to update information about embassy staffing and current travel recommendations.

The U.S. government continues to receive information about potential terrorist threats aimed at U.S., Western, and Kenyan interests in Kenya, including the Nairobi area and the coastal cities of Mombasa and Diani. Terrorist acts can include suicide operations, bombings – to include car bombings – kidnappings, attacks on civil aviation, and attacks on maritime vessels in or near Kenyan ports.  Although the pursuit of those responsible for previous terrorist activities continues, many of those involved remain at large and still operate in the region.  Travelers should consult the Worldwide Caution for further information and details.

Read in full here.

We should note that the State Department’s Family Liaison Office does not have any current guidance for employees on temporary relocation due to an official non-evacuation.

Makes one wonder how these employees on temporary relocation are assisted by the government. Were they all issued TDY orders to other countries? Were they sent on early R&Rs?  How about their family members?

See — an evacuation status is authorized by the Under Secretary of State for Management in 30-day increments, up to a maximum of 180 days, per DSSR 623f.  When an evacuation is declared, a Subsistence Expense Allowance (SEA) is given to official evacuees.  “Transitional separate maintenance allowance” TSMA is also granted to assist employees with additional costs they incur when their family members are required to occupy temporary commercial housing while establishing permanent housing in the U.S. following an evacuation and the conversion of the post to an unaccompanied status.

If this is in fact a “temporary relocation” with staffers sent on TDYs,there would be no evacuation orders, and there would be no evacuation allowances paid to staffers or family members relocated to other countries. The 180-day clock will not starting running.

If this is called a “temporary relocation” but staffers and/or family members are issued evac orders, granted evacuation allowances and the 180 day clock is on, then this is in fact an evacuation even if it’s not called that; and we’ll need a new State Department dictionary.

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Did US Embassy Tripoli Go on “Sort of a Drawdown” Without Going on Evacuation Status?

– Domani Spero

 

On May 27, the State Department issued a new Travel Warning for Libya. In part, the warning says, “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.” (see  New Libya Travel Warning, Amphibious Assault Ship USS Bataan (LHD 5) Sails Closer. On the May 30th, Daily Press Briefing the State Department spokesperson Jennifer Psaki was asked to confirm about U.S. Special Forces operating in Libya (which she denied), and addressed the reduction in staffing in Tripoli:

QUESTION: I have a very quick question. The London Times is claiming that U.S. special forces and in particular CIA forces, French forces, and Algerian forces are inside Libya chasing after Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who apparently survived. I mean, reports of his death were erroneous. Could you confirm to us whether there is actually a role for the U.S. in Libya or a military presence?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more than what we’ve already announced.

QUESTION: Could you – okay. Could you comment on the presence or the deployment of theUSS Bataan with some 2,000 Marines at the shores of Libya?

QUESTION: Is there anything new on this?

MS. PSAKI: There’s nothing new, and it was announced, I believe, two days ago.

QUESTION: Okay, but – yeah.

MS. PSAKI: But I’m happy to confirm for you –

QUESTION: Are we to assume that maybe Americans citizens are ready to leave the country? That’s the question.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I would say we – last Friday, I believe it was, I think, or maybe it was Monday – sorry – we put out a new Travel Warning. We have – as a result of the ongoing instability and violence, we reduced – and in that Travel Warning we reduced that we – we announced that we reduced – sorry, tongue-twister – the number of U.S. Government personnel at its Embassy – at our Embassy in Tripoli, and we are taking prudent steps to assure the security of our personnel given the instability. We are in constant contact with our Embassy, we are constantly evaluating the security needs, but I have nothing new to report on on that front.

QUESTION: I just – before everyone gets all excited, this is not an evacuation, right?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: These people left on regularly scheduled commercial aircraft. There was no panic. There was no attack, anything like that. They –

MS. PSAKI: There is no plan for a U.S. Government-sponsored evacuation at this time. This is a temporary reduction in staffing.

We should note that the May 27 Travel Warning did not announced that “we reduced – the number of U.S. Government personnel – at our Embassy in Tripoli,” it only announced that there exist limited staffing.  AmEmbassy Tripoli was already on limited staffing since May 8, 2013, when the Department of State ordered the departure of a number of U.S. government personnel from Libya.

So how was this current reduction of staffing done without the “authorized” or “ordered” departure of personnel?

It could be that TDYs were cancelled, and replacements were not brought in when PCS staff went on leave. But when personnel are pulled out from post (we don’t know how many) due to the security situation, it is typically done by declaring an “authorized” or “ordered” departure.  A Travel Warning is also issued by the Bureau of Consular Affairs whenever a post goes to authorized or ordered departure. The warning routinely urges private U.S. citizens to consider leaving or avoiding travel to countries where authorized or ordered departure is in effect.

Under the “no double standard policy,” if the Department shares information with the official U.S. community, it should also make the same or similar information available to the non-official U.S. community if the underlying threat applies to both official and non-official U.S. citizens/nationals. So if the embassy went on authorized or ordered departure, the State Department has an obligation to publicly share that information.

What is the difference between an authorized departure and an ordered departure?

While some folks make a distinction between authorized/ordered departures and evacuations, in reality they are the same. 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).   The Subsistence Expense Allowance (SEA) benefits for evacuees then commence from the day following arrival at the safe haven location.

An “authorized departure” is an evacuation procedure, short of ordered departure, by which post employees and/or eligible family members are permitted to leave post in advance of normal rotation when U.S. national interests or imminent threat to life requires it. Departure is requested by the Chief of Mission (COM) and approved by the Under Secretary for Management (M).   It allows the Chief of Mission greater flexibility in determining which employees or groups of employees may depart, and “avoids any negative connotation” that might be attached to the use of the term “evacuation.” Typically, in an authorized departure, airports are still open and personnel depart post via regularly scheduled commercial aircraft.

An “ordered departure” is an evacuation procedure by which the number of U.S. Government employees, eligible family members, or both, at a Foreign Service post is reduced. Ordered departure is mandatory and may be initiated by the Chief of Mission or the Secretary of State. Some ordered departure may still be done through commercial flights, but more often than not, this involves chartered USG flights from post to the designated safe haven in the region or back to the United States.  While an ordered departure may be followed with temporary post closure, what typically happens is that post remains open with mission essential emergency staffing.

Last February, the State Department issued a Travel Warning for Ukraine that includes the following:

On February 20, 2014, the Department of State authorized the departure of all family members of U.S. government personnel from Ukraine.  While the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv’s Consular Section is open for public services, the Embassy’s ability to respond to emergencies involving U.S. citizens throughout Ukraine is limited.

In April, the State Department issued a Travel Warning for South Sudan:

The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens against all travel to the Republic of South Sudan and recommends that U.S. citizens currently in South Sudan depart immediately.  As a result of the deteriorating security situation, the Department of State ordered the departure of most remaining U.S. government personnel from South Sudan on January 3, 2014.

So the question now is —  did US Embassy Tripoli went on a reduction of staff, “sort of a drawdown,“without officially calling it an authorized or ordered evacuation?

Of course, if you curtail staffers from post, that is, shorten the employees’ tours of duty from their assignments, or urge them to voluntarily curtail their assignments, that would not constitute an evacuation either, yes? Or if post management strongly suggests that people take their R&Rs earlier over the summer during a heightened threat, that would just be a regular movement of personnel and not at all an “ordered” departure.

So — you still get a reduction of staffing  without the negative connotation of an evacuation.

Not a trick question — how many staffers do you have to pull out from post before you call it an evacuation?

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Related item:

3 FAM 3770 Travel to Post Under Authorized or Ordered Departure (pdf)

 

 

 

 

 

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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 Kenya: Isn’t That Travel Warning Odd or What?

– Domani Spero

 

The State Department issued a Travel Warning for Kenya on May 15 warning of the risks of travel to Kenya, of potential terrorist threats aimed at U.S., Western, and Kenyan interests, and the restriction of U.S. Government personnel travel in country. We blogged about it here (See US Embassy Kenya Restricts USG Personnel Travel, New Travel Warning).

On May 16, the AP, citing a letter sent to embassy employees that day, reported  that the U.S. ambassador in Kenya Robert Godec has requested additional Kenyan and American security personnel and is reducing the size of the embassy staff due to increased terrorist threats in Kenya.

We don’t know when the actual request was made but the May 15 Travel Warning did not include the information on additional security personnel or the reduction of staff.

On Saturday, May 17, Ambassador Godec released the following statement:

[T]he U.S. government continues to receive information about potential terrorist threats aimed at both Kenyans and the international community.   The most important responsibility of every U.S. Ambassador and Embassy is to protect American citizens and to keep them informed.  The United States greatly appreciates the Kenyan government’s rapid response to requests for additional security at diplomatic facilities while it also increases security at public and other critical venues.

The Embassy is continuously reviewing and updating its security measures, and expects to take additional steps in coming days, to include on U.S. staffing. We remain open for normal operations and have no plan to close the Embassy.

We could not remember a post in recent memory that announced a reduction in staffing before it actually happens.  But the reduction in staffing was already widely reported in the media. As well as the request for additional security personnel for post.

We imagined that the Consular folks were up in arms with the “No Double Standard” Policy, which requires that  important security threat information if shared with the official U.S. community (generally defined as Americans working for the U.S. government abroad), must be made available to the wider American community if the threat applies to both official and non-official Americans.

On May 17, the two-day old Travel Warning was replaced with an updated one noting that, “Based on the security situation, the Embassy is reviewing its staffing with an eye toward reduction in staff in the near future.  The Embassy will remain open for normal operations.”

Meanwhile, according to AFP, Kenya’s foreign ministry had accused several foreign nations of “unfriendly acts” and “noted with disappointment” the warnings by Australia, Britain, France and the United States, after they issued travel warnings for coastal regions following a wave of attacks and unrest linked to Islamist extremists.

We should note that US Embassy Nairobi is the largest U.S. embassy in Africa with a staff of more than 1,300 among 19 federal agency offices, including more than 400 U.S. direct hires and over 800 local employees. As of this writing, the embassy has not been declared on authorized departure, the first phase in a staffing reduction.

Ambassador Godec was assigned as the Chargé d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy Nairobi, Kenya in August 2012 following the departure of Ambassador Gration.  He was nominated by President Obama on September 19, 2012 to be the next U.S. Ambassador to Kenya and sworn in by Secretary of State Clinton on January 16, 2013.  Prior to his assignment in Nairobi, Ambassador Godec was the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Counterterrorism (CT) in the Department of State.

Since Nairobi is the site of one of our most catastrophic embassy attacks, we will add the following detail from the Nairobi ARB report in 1999 in the aftermath of the twin East Africa bombings in Kenya and Tanzania:

Ambassador Bushnell, in letters to the Secretary in April 1998, and to Under Secretary Cohen a month later, restated her concern regarding the vulnerability of the embassy, repeating the need to have a new chancery that would meet Inman standards. Ms. Cohen responded in June stating that, because of Nairobi’s designation as a medium security threat post for political violence and terrorism and the general soundness of the building, its replacement ranked relatively low among the chancery replacement priorities. She drew attention to FBO’s plan to extend the chancery’s useful life and improve its security to include $4.1 million for the replacement of the windows.

As of this writing,there is no update on reduction of staffing at post. On May 20, US Embassy Nairobi issued the following Security Message for U.S. Citizens: Protests in Nairobi Turn Violent.

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US Embassy Kenya Restricts USG Personnel Travel, New Travel Warning

– Domani Spero

The State Department issued a new Travel Warning for Kenya on May 15 warning of the risks of travel to Kenya, of potential terrorist threats aimed at U.S., Western, and Kenyan interests, and the restriction of U.S. Government personnel travel in country.

The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to Kenya.  U.S. citizens in Kenya, and those considering travel to Kenya, should evaluate their personal security situation in light of continuing and recently heightened threats from terrorism and the high rate of violent crime in some areas.  The levels of risk vary throughout the country. This replaces the Travel Warning of April 4, 2014, to update information about the current security situation.

The U.S. government continues to receive information about potential terrorist threats aimed at U.S., Western, and Kenyan interests in Kenya, including the Nairobi area and the coastal cities of Mombasa and Diani.  Terrorist acts can include suicide operations, bombings – to include car bombings – kidnappings, attacks on civil aviation, and attacks on maritime vessels in or near Kenyan ports.  Although the pursuit of those responsible for previous terrorist activities continues, many of those involved remain at large and still operate in the region.  Travelers should consult the Worldwide Caution for further information and details.
[...]
Kenyan law enforcement has disrupted several terrorist plots throughout the country.  On March 17, 2014, police discovered a large and sophisticated car bomb in the Mombasa area, as reported in the local media.  The intended target remains unclear. 
[...]
On April 23, 2014, gunmen ambushed a convoy vehicle and attempted to kidnap an international humanitarian staff member at the Dadaab refugee complex.  While the kidnapping attempt was unsuccessful, one national staff member was injured in the attack.
[...]
As a result of these recent events and threats, the U.S. Embassy has restricted travel for U.S. government personnel to the Nairobi neighborhood of Eastleigh and to the coastal areas of Mombasa and Diani. Travel for personnel is limited to only mission-essential trips and must be pre-approved by appropriate Embassy offices. U.S. Embassy personnel are also prohibited from traveling to northeastern Kenya, including the cities of El Wak, Wajir, Garissa, Mandera, and Liboi. U.S. Embassy personnel are also restricted from traveling to the coastal area north of Pate Island, including Kiwavu and north to Kiunga on the Kenya-Somalia border. The Embassy has also instituted a policy of restricting U.S. government-sponsored regional conferences and trainings in Nairobi and reviewing the numbers of TDY personnel coming to the country for official purposes.

Although these restrictions do not apply to travelers not associated with the U.S. government, U.S. citizens in Kenya should take these restrictions into account when planning travel. The Embassy regularly reviews the security of these areas for possible modification.

There are no restrictions on U.S. embassy employee travel to Kenya’s most popular tourist destinations such as Masai Mara, Amboseli, Lake Nakuru, Tsavo, Lamu Island, Hell’s Gate, Samburu, Mount Kenya, and Malindi. However, as with the prohibited travel destinations listed above, the Embassy regularly reviews the security of these unrestricted areas for possible modification.

Read in full here.

Via UKFCO

Via UKFCO

On Friday, May 16, there have been reported explosions at Gikomba Market on the edges of the Eastleigh district in Nairobi. Casualties have been reported. On the same day the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advised against all but essential travel to the following areas:

  • areas within 60km of the Kenya-Somali border
  • Kiwayu and coastal areas north of Pate Island
  • Garissa District
  • the Eastleigh area of Nairobi
  • low income areas of Nairobi, including all township or slum areas
  • Mombasa island and within 5km of the coast from Mtwapa creek in the north down to and including Tiwi in the south (this area does not include Diani or Moi international airport)

If currently in an area to which the FCO advise against all but essential travel, travelers are also advised to “consider whether you have an essential reason to remain.”

Media reports that hundreds of British tourists are being evacuated on chartered flights from Kenya’s coast after the Foreign Office warning.

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