GAO Cites Gaps in @StateDept’s Crisis and Evacuation Preparedness for Overseas Posts

Posted: 3:11 am ET
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The GAO recently released its review of the State Department policies and procedures for evacuating overseas posts. The report notes that from October 2012 to September 2016, the State Department evacuated overseas post staff and family members from 23 overseas posts.  The evacuation was in response to various threats, such as terrorism, civil unrest, and natural disasters. Overseas posts undergoing evacuations generally have three types of movement: authorized departure (voluntary), ordered departure (mandatory) of specific post staff or family members, and suspended operations (closure).

The report also note that in fiscal years 2010 through 2016, State’s reported costs associated with evacuating from posts on 53 occasions were roughly $25.5 million.

“According to State officials, costs associated with evacuations varied due to several factors, including the number of post staff and family members evacuated. In fiscal year 2014, costs associated with evacuating Embassy Maseru in Lesotho were roughly $20,000, while in the same year, costs associated with evacuating Embassy Sana’a in Yemen were roughly $1.9 million.”

Certainly, a big chunk of that cost has to come from security and transportation. Below are the significant gaps cited by the GAO in the State Department’s crisis and evac preparedness:

U.S. personnel working at overseas posts, along with the family members who accompany them, face a range of threats to their safety and security—such as terrorism, civil unrest, and natural disasters. To help protect them, State has established processes to prepare overseas posts for crises and to conduct evacuations. However, State has significant gaps in implementation of its preparedness processes for crises and evacuations at overseas posts.

➥Overseas posts are not completing required annual Emergency Action Plans (EAP) updates

➥ Diplomatic Security is not identifying incomplete updates in its Emergency Action Plan (EAP) reviews

➥ The EAPs themselves are not readily usable during emergency situations

➥ Although regular drilling is a critical crisis preparedness task, very few overseas posts have completed all required annual drills

➥ Because overseas posts are not submitting required after-action reports containing lessons learned following evacuations, the State Department is missing important opportunities to identify challenges and best practices and to make changes to prepare for future evacuations from overseas posts.

The report concludes that “while State has taken initial actions— including some actions in response to our ongoing work—to improve implementation of its preparedness processes for crises and evacuations, significant shortcomings exist.” It also says that “while each of these gaps is of concern, taken together, they increase the risk that post staff are not sufficiently prepared to handle crisis and emergency situations.”

 Other details excerpted from the report:

Late Annual Updates:

In fiscal year 2016, about 1 in 12 overseas posts were late in completing required annual updates. On average, these posts were about 6 months late in completing their EAP updates. For fiscal year 2016, the list of posts that were late in completing their annual EAP updates included 7 posts rated high or critical in political violence or terrorism.

DS Does Not Fully Review Key Sections of EAPs Submitted by Overseas Posts

The FAH directs DS to review each EAP submitted by an overseas post during the annual EAP review cycle to ensure that EAPs include updated information needed by State headquarters and other agencies to monitor or assist in responding to emergency situations at posts.22 To conduct these annual reviews, DS Emergency Plans Review Officers in Washington use a list of 27 key EAP sections that the Emergency Plans Review Office has determined should be updated each year.23 According to DS officials, Emergency Plans Review Officers spot check these 27 key EAP sections to review and approve each EAP. In addition, DS officials told us that Review Officers consider forms included in key EAP sections that they spot check to meet the annual update requirement if the forms were updated up to 3 years prior to the check.24

DS does not document its annual EAP review process. We requested the results of the Emergency Plans Review Officer reviews, including data on who conducted them and what deficiencies, if any, were found. Federal internal control standards call for agency management to evaluate performance and hold individuals accountable for their internal control responsibilities.25 However, DS was unable to provide copies of the reviews completed because the Emergency Plans Review Officers do not document these results.

Emergency Action Plans Are Viewed As Lengthy and Cumbersome Documents That Are Not Readily Usable in Emergency Situations

While officials from State headquarters and all six posts we met with told us that EAPs are not readily usable in emergency situations, officials at five of the six posts we met with also said there is value for post staff to participate in the process of updating EAPs to prepare for emergencies. The process of updating the EAP, they noted, includes reviewing applicable checklists and contact lists before an emergency occurs, which can help post staff be better prepared in the event of an emergency. Officials at two of the six posts we met with also observed that EAPs contain large amounts of guidance because it is easier for responsible staff at post to complete required updates to their specific sections if all the guidance they need is directly written into each EAP.

The GAO reviewers were told that EAPs are often more than 800 pages long. “Our review of a nongeneralizable sample of 20 EAPs confirmed this; the 20 EAPs in our sample ranged from 913 to 1,356 pages long,” the report said.

One other footnote says that “while each major section, annex, and appendix of an EAP had its own table of contents, the full EAP lacked a single, comprehensive table of contents or index.”

A new system sometime this year?

The State Department is reportedly in the process of developing a new electronic system for overseas posts to draft and update their EAPs to address issues with the current system, according to State headquarters officials. According to the report, the State Department plans to launch the new system in the second half of 2017.

Absent a functioning lessons learned process …

The GAO reviewers talk about lessons not learned:

We learned of several challenges that posts faced in different evacuations in discussions with officials from the six posts with whom we met. Different posts mentioned various challenges, including disorganized evacuation logistics and transportation, unclear communication with local staff, confusion surrounding the policy for evacuating pets, problems with shipment and delivery of personal effects, difficulty tracking the destination of staff who were relocated, poor communication with senior State leadership regarding the post’s evacuation status, difficulties getting reimbursement for lodging or personal expenses related to the evacuation, and other similar challenges.

Absent a functioning lessons learned process, State’s ability to identify lessons learned and to share best practices from staff that have experienced evacuations may be constrained.

Back in 2009, Rep Howard Berman sponsored H.R. 2410 during the 111th Congress to provide for the establishment of a Lessons Learned Center for the State Department and USAID under the Under Secretary for Management.  That bill made no specific provision as to staff composition of the Center or its funding, and it also died in committee (H.R. 2410: Lessons Learned Center, Coming Soon?).

In 2016, the State Department and the Foreign Service Institute marked the opening (reportedly after two years of preparation) of its Center for the Study of the Conduct of Diplomacy. Then D/Secretary Tony Blinken said that the Center ensures “that we apply the lessons of the past to our conduct and actions in the future.” Some media outlet called it a ‘lessons learned’ center but its aim is on the study and analysis of diplomatic best practices to study how to effectively apply policy.

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IOM Seeks $10M Initial Funds For Humanitarian Evacuation of 11,000+ Fm Yemen, And Wassup With the F-77?

Posted: 12:29  pm EDT
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On April 6, the US Embassy Sana’a informed Americans in Yemen of the Indian government’s  offer to assist U.S. citizens who want to depart for Djibouti (see For U.S. Citizens in Yemen, a New Website and a New Hashtag Shows Up: #StuckInYemen).

The Indian-assisted evacuation is not the first time Americans are evacuated by a foreign mission. According to the GAO, in 2004, about 400 American citizens from West Africa  were evacuated on foreign government-arranged aircraft. That unnamed post “extensively coordinated and communicated with foreign missions”  presumably because its operation had not been suspended or its staff relocated elsewhere, unlike the case in Yemen.  Although not identified by the GAO report, we think this was the French Government-assisted evacuation from the Ivory Coast in 2004.

 

A second embassy update on April 6 indicates another departure option from Yemen though the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Below is part of the message:

April 6, 2015 | The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is planning to arrange a flight from Sana’a to Djibouti the week of April 6. U.S. citizens in Yemen who wish to avail themselves of this opportunity should contact the Mr. Anwar Alhakami of the IOM at iomsanaaoperations@iom.int or 967-7155-55033. The Department of State cannot guarantee that all U.S. citizens seeking to depart via an IOM flight can be accommodated. All U.S. citizens seeking to depart require valid U.S. passports.

image via IOM

image via IOM click for larger view

According to IOM, while a number of governments have taken steps to evacuate their nationals from Yemen, whether by sea or air, many have not been able to do so, and have instead called on IOM’s assistance to extract their nationals who remain stranded there.  As of 1 April, over 11,000 such requests had been received by IOM.  IOM is now seeking an initial USD 10 million in funds to enable it “to deliver humanitarian evacuation assistance to a first caseload of 5,000 stranded and vulnerable migrants.”

Except below (source-pdf):

To date, IOM has received requests to support the humanitarian evacuation of over 11,000 nationals from 22 governments.

Responding to Member States’ requests for IOM’s assistance, the Director General has approved the mobilization of the Organization’s Migration Emergency Funding Mechanism (MEFM) with an initial loan towards the initiation of evacuation operations. The MEFM, however, does not have sufficient resources to meet the requirements presented by the scale of the operation that would need to be established.

IOM’s Humanitarian Evacuation Cell has been activated and surge support has been deployed across the region to help coordinate and organize these efforts. IOM has identified air charter service providers who are able to operate between Yemen and concerned countries. All-inclusive, per capita air transportation costs, for such an operation amount to approximately USD 1,100, based on quotations so far received from aircraft operators, though at this stage IOM continues to consider all potential options, including air and land routes.

With this appeal, IOM aims to launch immediate evacuation operations in a manner that complements efforts so far undertaken by concerned governments, and has set an initial target of 5,000 stranded and vulnerable migrants to be transported from Yemen to their respective countries of origin. IOM will be working closely with authorities in receiving and transit countries, airlines, civil aviation and military authorities of involved countries, and consular authorities in both Yemen and countries of origin to ensure that assisted migrants have adequate documentation, are registered (manifested), are able to depart from Yemen and return to their countries of origin in a seamless manner.

Provisions are also being made to cover the provision of pre-departure assistance within Yemen through the mobilization of IOM’s 200+ staff within the country. Assistance will include ground transportation, medical assistance and basic supplies for migrants awaiting departure and logistical support at points of embarkation. In countries of origin, assistance will need to include onward transportation from ports of entry to final in-country destinations. This additional assistance is estimated to amount to USD 400 per capita.

IOM also says that  among its lessons learnt from the Libya evacuation in 2011 is the critical importance of “establishing adequate support measures in countries of origin to receive migrants at ports of entry and provide basic support packages on arrival and, in partnership with country-based stakeholders and authorities, address prevalent reintegration challenges. In so doing, IOM considers in-country on-arrival assistance an intrinsic part of humanitarian evacuation operations, while also taking into account reintegration challenges in areas of return to ensure the sustainability of returns, prevent secondary displacement and mitigate potential social tension that may arise.”

 
An American who recently fled Sana’a estimated that there are “perhaps 300 Americans” stranded in Yemen. According to the Guardian, the State Department said it cannot estimate how many Americans are in Yemen.

 
Asked if the State Department has a sense of how many U.S. citizens are in Yemen,  State’s acting spokesperson Marie Harf told the press corps yesterday, “We don’t.”  She also explained that the State Department has issued 24 Travel Warnings on Yemen in the last 10 years, “so this is not a surprise that the security situation was a poor one.”  As of April 6, the United States does not have a third party in Yemen to act on its behalf as protecting power.
 

Ms. Harf may not know this but we should note that the State Department requires overseas posts to produce estimates of the number of private American citizens in country.  When surveyed by the GAO in 2007, more than three-quarters of posts said their last estimate was, at best, only somewhat accurate. State officials also told the GAO that these estimates were best guesses and not based on a particular methodology.

The annual State Department report of potential evacuees from each post overseas is called the F-77. In the aftermath of the 2006 Lebanon evacuation of over 15,000 Americans, a State official told the GAO that State was in the process of updating the instructions for producing F-77 reports to improve the preparation of estimates of American citizens at post.  If an estimate is not available, does that mean Embassy Sana’a did not have an updated F-77 prior to its suspension of operation in February 2015? Or does that mean, the challenges identified in 2008 for estimating U.S. citizens at post continue to this day: fluctuation of citizen population, non-registration, dual nationals? Or — does it simply mean that the State Department is not willing to make public its estimate of potential evacuees from Yemen?
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For U.S. Citizens in Yemen, a New Website and a New Hashtag Shows Up: #StuckInYemen

Posted: 5:27 pm EDT
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The State Department suspended embassy operations at the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa, Yemen and American staff were relocated out of the country on February 11, 2015.    This followed  the previously announced suspension of all consular services  on February 8 (see State Dept Suspends US Embassy Yemen Operations, Relocates Staff Until Further Notice).  There was no USG-sponsored evacuation for U.S. citizens residing in the country. At that time, and many times previously, the State Department urged U.S. citizens to defer travel to Yemen and those U.S. citizens living in Yemen to depart the country (see here, here, here, here, and here).

On March 25, Saudi Arabia launched military operations in Yemen in a coalition with reportedly 10 other countries. (see New Front in Regional Chaos: Saudi Arabia Launches Air Strikes Against Houthis in Yemen).  As the situation deteriorated, the following countries have evacuated their citizens from Yemen:

India

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China

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Pakistan

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Russia

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Turkey

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Guys, Somalia!

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Foreigners Evacuated

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26 Countries Requested Evacuation Assistance from India

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Whatabout the Amcits in Yemen?

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On April 3, the State Department issued an updated Travel Warning for Yemen that says in part:

The level of instability and ongoing threats in Yemen remain severe.  There are no plans for a U.S. government-coordinated evacuation of U.S. citizens at this time. We encourage all U.S. citizens to shelter in a secure location until they are able to depart safely. U.S. citizens wishing to depart should do so via commercial transportation options when they become available.

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Somebody noticed

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Meanwhile, a new website and a new hashtag just showed up online for U.S. citizens in Yemen:

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Today, April, 6, the US Embassy Sana’a issued an Emergency Message advising U.S. citizens in Yemen that the Indian Government has offered to evacuate U.S. citizens from Yemen to Djibouti:

The Indian government has offered to assist U.S. citizens who want to depart Yemen for Djibouti.  This potentially includes flights out of Sana’a and ships from Aden.  U.S. citizens wishing to take advantage of this opportunity should contact First Secretary Raj Kopal at the Indian Embassy in Sana’a at 00967 734 000 657; you may be required to present a valid U.S. passport for boarding.  The next flights from Sana’a are scheduled to depart early on April 7.  The Department of State cautions that U.S. citizens should consider carefully the risks of traveling to or within Sana’a and Aden in order to board evacuation transport given security conditions in both cities.

On February 11, 2015, due to the deteriorating security situation in Sanaa, the Department of State suspended embassy operations and U.S. Embassy Sanaa American staff were relocated out of the country.  All consular services, routine and emergency, continue to be suspended until further notice.  The Department notified the public of this move, and its impact on consular services, and urged U.S. citizens in Yemen to depart while commercial transportation was available.

The level of instability and ongoing threats in Yemen remain extremely concerning. There are no plans for a U.S. government-coordinated evacuation of U.S. citizens at this time.  If you wish to depart Yemen, you should stay alert for other opportunities to leave the country.  U.S. citizens who are able to depart Yemen for another country and are in need of emergency assistance upon arrival may contact a U.S. embassy or consulate in that country.

Read more: Emergency Message for U.S. Citizens – Updated Departure Options (April 6, 2015)

U.S. Embassy Djibouti is a small post with a low consular workload. At least, until 2010, the consular section there consisted of one entry-level officer (who occupied an FS-03 position) assisted by three local employees  (source-pdf).

We don’t know what is the current US citizen population in Yemen. A State/OIG report from June 2010 estimated that the U.S.-Yemeni community there numbered at least 55,000.  The report also noted that the serious threat of terrorism in Yemen has put “Sanaa’s visa and passport services in the homeland security cross-hairs.”

We have reached out to Consular Affairs but have not heard anything back.

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Photo of the Day: Back in the U.S.A.

Posted: 08:41 PST
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Via state.gov

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks with U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Matthew Tueller at the Department of State in Washington, D.C., on February 13, 2015, after the Secretary stopped by a gathering to thank Embassy employees and a Department-based task force for their work to safely and successfully evacuate the Embassy after the suspending operations and temporarily relocating staff out of the capital of Sana’a. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks with U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Matthew Tueller

 

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

Posted: 01:04 EST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

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

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: — organization.

QUESTION: Yes, please. Just to —

[…]

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

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

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

Where are the Marines?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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GIF of the Day: Just checking the Lessons Learned box?

— Domani Spero

Via Burn Bag:

“Wouldn’t the bureau with the most evacuations benefit from listening to evacuees instead of being so defensive and bristling at suggestions for improvement? Instead of checking the Lessons Learned box – try to actually DO something right after that colossal mistake called ordered departure!”

Image via Giphy

Image via Giphy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

U.S. Embassy Juba Evacuates U.S. Citizens From South Sudan

–Domani Spero

On December 17, the State Department suspended normal operations at the U.S. Embassy in Juba and authorized the ordered departure of non emergency staff from post.  It also issued a new Travel Warning for South Sudan. (See U.S. Embassy Juba Suspends Operations, Now on Ordered Departure for Non-Emergency Staff).

On December 18, the U.S. Embassy in Juba facilitated the evacuation of U.S. citizens from the country.  The airport is reportedly open, with incoming sporadic flights.   Kenya Airways will resume flights to and from Juba’s airport on Thursday according to reports.

The embassy tweeted that its evac flight today was full but did not release the numbers of U.S. citizens who departed in the USG-chartered flight.  The embassy is now calling U.S. citizens in South Sudan to update them of evacuation options.  No announcement as yet on whether there will be another evacuation flight later.

U.S. Embassy Juba released the following information:

Emergency Message for U.S. Citizens:  Assisting the Departure of U.S. Citizens | December 18, 2013

On December 17, 2013, the Department of State ordered the departure of non-emergency U.S. Embassy personnel from Juba, Republic of South Sudan. The U.S. Embassy will be assisting U.S. citizens who wish to depart Juba. U.S. citizens should review their personal security situation and consider taking advantage of planned flights arranged by the Department of State, as the embassy is able to provide only limited emergency consular services. Citizens who wish to take advantage of flights arranged by the Department of State should arrive at the Juba Airport no later than 10:30 this morning, December 18. Private U.S. citizens will need to arrange their own transport to the airport and should consider personal safety of that travel in doing so. Assistance will be provided on a first-come, first-served basis to eligible U.S. citizens. Please note that the U.S. Department of State will arrange for additional transportation as necessary to accommodate demand, and taking into account security conditions. Please be aware that each traveler is limited to one suitcase, and pets cannot be accommodated. All travelers must have travel documentation. Further updates will be provided as information becomes available.

Departure assistance is provided on a reimbursable basis to the maximum extent practicable. This means that you will be asked to sign a form promising to repay the U.S. government. We charge you the equivalent of a full coach fare on commercial air at the time that commercial options cease to be a viable option, and you will be required to sign a promissory note for this amount and to pay this fare at a later date. You will be taken to a safe haven country, from which the traveler will need to make his or her own onward travel arrangements. If you are destitute, and private resources are not available to cover the cost of onward travel, you may be eligible for emergency financial assistance. Please also be aware that there is a limit of one suitcase per person.

During a crisis, our priority is assisting U.S. citizens. You should not expect to bring friends or relatives who are not U.S. citizens on U.S. government chartered or non-commercial transportation. Exceptions may be made to accommodate special family circumstances, such as when the spouse of a U.S. citizen is a legal permanent resident, or “green card” holder; however, it is the non-U.S. citizen’s responsibility to be sure he or she has appropriate travel documentation for the destination location. Any services provided to non-U.S. citizens are on a space-available basis after U.S. citizens are accommodated.

If you are able, please print and complete a form for each adult traveler, found at this link: http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/211837.pdf.

Read in full here.