US Embassy Syria: Further Reduction in Core Staffing Due to Deteriorating Security Situation

Below is a quick rundown of important dates for the US Embassy in Damascus:

On December 22, 2011: Reduced staffing, possible reduction of consular services:

Travel Warning replaces the Travel Warning dated September 30, 2011, and is updated to reflect reduced staffing at the U.S. Embassy in Damascus and a possible reduction in consular services. U.S. citizens should not travel to Syria due to ongoing violence and civil unrest. The U.S. Department of State urges U.S. citizens currently in Syria to depart immediately while commercial transportation is available. The number of airlines serving Syria has decreased significantly since the summer months, and many of the remaining airlines have reduced their number of flights. U.S. citizens who must remain in Syria should limit nonessential travel within the country. For the time being, the Embassy continues to provide passport services, as well as other emergency services to U.S. citizens. However, staff levels at the Embassy are being further reduced. Visa services for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens may also be affected due to staffing levels. Our ability to assist U.S. citizens in an emergency is extremely limited and may be further constrained by the fluid security situation. 

January 10, 2012: Warden Message

Due to further reductions in U.S. Embassy staff and as a result of the deteriorating security situation, the Consular Section will no longer have hours during which it is open to the public.  Effective immediately, all consular services are by prearranged appointment only.  Please take this opportunity to review our most recent Travel Warning for Syria.  The U.S. Embassy strongly urges U.S. citizens in Syria to depart immediately.  To request an appointment for American Citizens Services, please contact us by email at acsdamascus@state.gov.  We will not always be able to answer your non-emergency phone inquiries during business hours. 

January 11, 2012: Further reduction in staffing

This Travel Warning replaces the Travel Warning dated December 21, 2011, and is being updated to reflect that on January 11, 2012, the Department of State has ordered a further reduction in staffing of the U.S. Embassy in Syria. Due to security concerns in Syria, in October 2011, the embassy was designated an unaccompanied post with restricted staffing.  The Department has decided to further reduce the number of employees present in Damascus, and has ordered a number of employees to depart Syria as soon as possible.  U.S. citizens should avoid all travel to Syria.  The U.S. Department of State urges U.S. citizens currently in Syria to depart immediately while commercial transportation is available.  The number of airlines serving Syria has decreased significantly since the summer months, and many of the remaining airlines have reduced their number of flights.  U.S. citizens who must remain in Syria should limit nonessential travel within the country.  Due to further reductions in U.S. Embassy staff and as a result of the deteriorating security situation, the Consular Section will no longer have hours during which it is open to the public.  Effective immediately, all consular services are by prearranged appointment only.  Our ability to assist U.S. citizens in an emergency is extremely limited and may be further constrained by the fluid security situation. 

Read in full here.

“We will triumph over this conspiracy,” Bashar al-Assad told a cheering, clapping and flag-waving throng. President Assad blaming “foreign hands” sounds more and more like the Gaddafi during one of the late dictator’s pretend rallies in Tripoli.

In the meantime, Ambassador Ford is not pulling any punches on the embassy’s Facebook page responding to one commenter, Can
the Syrian government oppress a large part of the population that
demands dignity and respect of basic human rights or is its violence
making things even worse?
“; telling another,
We’ve
let you post on our Embassy Facebook page, and we welcome serious
debate. You can lecture me and the embassy FB page about freedom of
speech the day the Syrian government that you so strongly support allows
criticism of the Syrian government’s security policies to be aired on
Ikhbariya Souriya or Addounia or Qanat Souriya.”

Ambassador Ford, of course, is accredited to the Government of Syria and
not the people of Syria. So while the Assad Government is in power,
Ambassador Ford is a guest of that government; the same government who
has the power to kick him out of the  country when it no longer see his presence in the country as useful.

I don’t know how many core staffers are left at the embassy in Damascus.
Its key officers list updated on December 13, 2011 includes Ambassador
Ford with a few other officers plus the DCM pulling double duty as
Acting Public Affairs Officer. I am confident that Ambassador Ford and his officers would not be left there if the embassy does not have sufficient security at the compound.  That said, sufficient security is useless without a strong assurance of protection by the host country.  That is, that the Government of Syria takes seriously its responsibility to protect our diplomatic mission, and not at a slug’s response rate.