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

— Domani Spero
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

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

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: — organization.

QUESTION: Yes, please. Just to —

[…]

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

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

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

Where are the Marines?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

— Domani Spero
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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