US Embassy Libya Evacuation of July 26, 2014 – In Photos

Posted: 12:35 am EDT
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In the early morning of July 26, 2014, the State Department 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 (see State Dept Suspends All Embassy Operations in Libya, Relocates Staff Under Armed Escorts). The photos below are from that evacuation via Diplomatic Security’s photo collection:

July 26, 2014: A portion of the embassy motorcade takes a roadside break along a desert highway in western Libya. Some 70 U.S. Government personnel and 85 U.S. Marines in 34 U.S. Embassy armored vehicles traveled more than 500 miles across desert and mountain terrain to the safety of neighboring Tunisia. (Source: U.S. Department of State)

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July 26, 2014:  U.S. Marines prepare an MV-22B Osprey vertical-takeoff tiltrotor aircraft for departure from Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy to assist with the relocation of U.S. Embassy personnel from Tripoli, Libya amid intense fighting between rival Libyan militias. The aircraft was part of a contingent of U.S. air assets, comprised of two Ospreys, an in-air tanker, and two fighter jets, that provided security support for the operation. (Source: U.S. Marine Corps)

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July 26, 2014: A Diplomatic Security technical specialist walks across the tarmac of the U.S. Naval Air Station in Sigonella, Italy after a long day’s journey through desert, mountains, and over the Mediterranean Sea. He was among some 70 embassy staff and 85 Marines who evacuated the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli earlier in the day, following weeks of escalating battles between heavily armed rival militias in the Libyan capital. (Source: U.S. Department of State)

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Suspending Embassy Operations: Post and Bureau Not Told, and FOIA Redaction Fail

Posted: 1:12 am EDT
Updated: 5:28 pm EDT
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On February 25, 2011, the State Department announced the suspension of U.S. Embassy operations in Libya (see State Dept Suspends US Embassy Operations in #Libya, Withdraws All Personnel).  What we didn’t know then but we know now, thanks to the Clinton email dump, is that just a few days before that, neither the embassy nor the bureau was aware that they were suspending operations.

February 22, 2011 09:50 PM – HRC aide Jake Sullivan sent an email (partially redacted with FOIA b(5) code) to Janet A. Sanderson, the Deputy Assistant Secretary Bureau of Near East Affairs, with subject line “Suspending embassy ops” and asking “Where do we stand?”

February 22, 2011 10:14 PM – Sanderson emailed Sullivan:

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Feb 22 22:18:23 2011 (10:18 PM) – Sanderson also sent an email to M/Patrick Kennedy and Kathleen T. Austin-Ferguson, M’s Executive Assistant:

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February 22, 2011 10:37 PM – Kennedy responded to Sanderson saying he “talked to cheryl and tom” and that “they are also unaware.”“Checking with Secretary. At this moment we are NOT suspending. Fully agree not possible to do tomorrow and also risks libyan blow back.”  Email must be referencing HRC Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills and Deputy Secretary Tom Nides.

Embassy Tripoli eventually suspended operations on February 25, three days after the start of this email chain.  These emails are part of the Clinton email dump and it shows just how messed up is the FOIA at the agency.

On Feb 22 22:40:17 2011 (10:40 PM) – Sanderson responded to the Kennedy email, adding Ronald Schlicher to the email chain. Ambassador Schlicher was previously assigned to Cyprus, and also served as a DAS at the Bureau of Near East Affairs. We are not sure what was his position in 2011, but he must have been attached to NEA to be looped in in this exchange. Ambassador Schlicher was Principal DAS at the NEA bureau, and he would have been Sanderson’s boss at the time.  Here’s a clip from that email:

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Now, take a look at the email below with the same time stamp and same addresses, released as a separate email by the FOIA office at State:

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Why, they’re the same email, except that they were released as separate documents, and in the second document, the email is redacted under the b(5) FOIA exemption, also known in the FOIA community as the “Withhold It Because You Want To” Exemption.  “Yael” must have been Yael Lempert who was assigned to Tripoli as consular section chief in 2009 and featured in the NYT here for the release of four New York Times journalists in 2011 in Libya.  She may have been the acting DCM at the time of the suspension of operations.  “Joan” is presumably Joan Polaschik who was DCM and then CDA of Embassy Tripoli. She is currently the U.S. Ambassador to Algeria.

Here is what DOJ says about the b(5) exemption:

Exemption 5 of the FOIA protects “inter-agency or intra-agency memorandums or letters which would not be available by law to a party other than an agency in litigation with the agency.” (1) The courts have construed this somewhat opaque language, with its sometimes confusing threshold requirement, (2) to “exempt those documents, and only those documents that are normally privileged in the civil discovery context.” (3)

Here is what we are not supposed to read according to the FOIA ninjas, except that one of them forgot the Sharpie:

“I have just talked to post (Yael).She and Joan will work to reduce staff and send more out on ferry. Shd get down to 10- 12. She fully understands need for limited staff to stay to deal with community. Believes likely remainder will be position to leave in few days. Says situation is “worse than Baghdad in 2004-2005 “

No matter how you read the above passage, it is difficult to make the case that it fits the b(5) exemption unless you’re thinking of the “withhold it because you want to” exemption threshold.

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Emails in full released via FOIA below:

Suspending Ops Libya – February 22, 2011 11:05 PM: https://cloudup.com/cAlO_WHTfpc

Suspending Ops Libya February 23, 2011 7:59 AM: https://cloudup.com/cD33FlF7TCo

Suspending Ops Libya February 23, 2011 8:08 AM: https://cloudup.com/cjplOQtTEmw

 

Snapshot: Ops Center, the State Department’s 911 Help Line

Posted: 3:09 am EDT
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Below is a snapshot of the Ops Center extracted from State Mag:

In 1961, Ops started 24/7 operations as the Department’s communications and crisis management center. The Watch runs 3 shifts per day (24/7). It has 45 Watchstanders (34 Foreign Service, 11 Civil Service officers) CMS: 14 Person Team (5 FS, 9 CS officers). The Ops Center also includes a military advisor, two Diplomatic Security Watch liaison officers, a management officer, an innovation officer and a staff assistant.

On a typical day, officers facilitate communication between Department officers, posts overseas and interagency partners, track and alert Department officers and interagency partners on breaking developments, build four daily briefs for Seventh-floor leadership, distribute senior leaders’ briefing material in advance of high-level interagency meetings and manage and prepare posts for crises wherever they may occur.

Watch officers must be prepared to brief the Secretary, Department principals and other officials on current world events at a moment’s notice and do so succinctly and accurately. They also prepare written products for the Secretary and other Department principals, including breaking news alerts, daily overnight and afternoon briefs, and situation and spot reports on world events.
“It’s not surprising that when the fighting in Tripoli began in July 2014 and the embassy came under indirect fire, my first call was to the Ops Center,” said U.S. Ambassador to Libya Deborah Jones, a former Watch officer and senior Watch officer. “We maintained an open line (literally) during our 19-hour trek across the desert, mountains and oases of western Libya into Tunis, until we arrived at the C-17 awaiting us at Gabès Air Force Base.”

 

 

Extracted file available as pdf to read/download here: https://cldup.com/r-7BJR-pgh.pdf

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US Embassy Libya: Ambassador Deborah Jones Moves On, Ambassador Peter Bodde Waits

Posted: 1:33 am EDT
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In July, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Ambassador Peter William Bodde to be the next U.S. Ambassador to Tripoli.

Ambassador Peter William Bodde, a career member of the Foreign Service, class of Minister-Counselor, currently serves as U.S. Ambassador to Nepal, a position he has held since 2012.  Ambassador Bodde served as Assistant Chief of Mission for Assistance Transition at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq from 2010 to 2012 and as U.S. Ambassador to Malawi from 2008 to 2010.  He served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan from 2006 to 2008.  From 2002 to 2006, Ambassador Bodde was Principal Officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Frankfurt, Germany.  Prior to this, he served as Director of the State Department’s Office of Management Policy from 2000 to 2002 and as Administrative Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, India from 1997 to 2000.  Ambassador Bodde served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu, Nepal from 1994 to 1997.  His earlier assignments include postings in Denmark, Bulgaria, and Guyana.  Ambassador Bodde received a B.A. from the University of Maryland.

Bodde, Peter W. – Libya – August 2015

Ambassador Bodde’s nomination was referred to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on July 8, 2015. It looks like the senate panel has yet to hold a confirmation hearing on his nomination.

The U.S. Embassy in Tripoli was evacuated in 2011 during civil unrest to remove then-President Muammar al-Qadhafi. In September 11, 2012, Islamic militants attacked the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi killing four Americans.  In early 2013, U.S. personnel returned to Libya.  The  embassy was moved closer to the Tripoli International Airport. In July 2014, two major militias fought for control of Tripoli International Airport. As the fighting drew closer to Embassy Tripoli, the security environment for conducting embassy operations deteriorated. On July 26, 2014, more than 100 U.S. personnel were evacuated by land to Tunisia (see State Dept Suspends All Embassy Operations in Libya, Relocates Staff Under Armed Escorts).

According to a May 2015 State/OIG report, the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (State/NEA) and Embassy Tripoli were working on an arrangement to allow the Embassy Tripoli External Office located at the U.S. Embassy in Malta to transfer operations to Embassy Tunis. This would include the U.S. Ambassador to Libya and as many as 9 American staff members and 13 locally employed staff members.

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USAID’s Arab Spring Challenges in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen: The State Department, It’s No.2 Challenge

Posted: 12:10 am EDT
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USAID’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted a survey (pdf) to identify the challenges USAID faced during the early transition period (December 2010-June 2014) in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen. USAID/OIG identified and interviewed 31 key USAID officials from various parts of the organization who have worked on activities in these countries.It also administered a questionnaire to supplement the information gathered from the interviews. Together, 70 employees from USAID were either interviewed or responded to the questionnaire. It notes that the while the survey collected the perspectives of a number of USAID employees, it is not statistically representative of each office or USAID as a whole.

The highest addressee on this report is USAID/Middle East Bureau Assistant Administrator, Paige Alexander. It includes no State Department official nor congressional entities.

Below is an excerpt:

In 2013 OIG conducted a performance audit of USAID/Egypt’s economic growth project1 and found that the changes of the Arab Spring severely affected the project’s progress. Approximately midway through implementation, the project had not made significant progress in seven of the ten tasks in the original plan mainly because of changes in the Egyptian Government’s counterparts and priorities. To adapt to the environment, the project adjusted its plan and identified three new areas of work to focus on. In another audit that year,2 OIG found similar challenges at USAID/Yemen when one of that mission’s main projects had to adjust its approach after the Arab Spring started (page 16).

Beyond project delays, we found a host of other challenges common to all four countries that revolve around three broad categories:

  1. Security
  2. Increased influence from the State Department
  3. Host-countryreadiness

1. Security.

One of the most commonly cited challenges was the difficulty of operating in a volatile environment. Security dictated many aspects of USAID’s operations after the Arab Spring started, and it was not uncommon for activities to be delayed or cancelled because of security issues.
[…]
In addition to access, security also disrupted operations because employees were evacuated from the different countries. U.S. direct-hire employees at USAID/Egypt were evacuated twice in 3 years. In USAID/Yemen, employees were evacuated twice in 3 years for periods of up to 6 months.3 In our survey, 76 percent of the respondents agreed that evacuations made managing projects more difficult.
[…]
Because of the precarious security situations, strict limits were placed on the number of U.S. direct hires who were allowed to be in each country. Employees said the Agency did not have enough staff to support the number of activities. This problem was particularly pronounced in Tunisia and Libya, where for extended periods, USAID had only one permanent employee in each country

2. Increased Influence From State Department.

According to our survey results, the majority of respondents (87 percent) believed that since the Arab Spring the State Department has increased its influence over USAID programs (Figure 3). While USAID did not have activities in Libya and Tunisia before the Arab Spring, staff working in these countries afterward discussed situations in which the State Department had significant influence over USAID’s work. A respondent from Tunisia wrote, “Everything has been driven by an embassy that does not seem to feel USAID is anything other than an implementer of whatever they want to do.”

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While there is broad interagency guidance on State’s role in politically sensitive environments, the specifics of how USAID should adapt its operations were not entirely clear to Agency employees and presented a number of challenges to USAID’s operations. In Yemen, the department’s influence seemed to be less of an issue (page 17), but for the remaining countries, it was a major concern. As one survey respondent from Egypt wrote:

[State’s control] makes long-term planning incredibly difficult and severely constrains USAID’s ability to design and execute technically sound development projects. A path forward is agreed, steps taken to design activities and select implementation mechanisms, and then we are abruptly asked to change the approach.

State’s involvement introduced a new layer of review and slowed down operations. USAID employees needed to dedicate additional time to build consensus and gain approval from people outside the Agency.

USAID employees also described challenges occurring when State employees, unfamiliar with the Agency and its different types of procurement, made requests that were difficult to accommodate under USAID procedures. One respondent wrote that State “think[s] programs can be stopped and started at will and that we can intervene and direct partners in a manner that goes far beyond the substantial involvement we are allowed as project managers.”

Beyond operational challenges, many people we interviewed expressed frustration over the State Department’s increased role, particularly when State’s direction diverted USAID programming from planned development priorities and goals. This was an especially contentious issue at USAID/Egypt (page 7).

This difference in perspectives caused some to question State’s expertise in development assistance, particularly in transitional situations. A USAID official explained that countries in turmoil presented unique challenges and dynamics, and embassies may not have experts in this area. Others said USAID was taking direction from State advisers who were often political appointees without backgrounds in development.
[…]
State was not the sole source of pressure; employees said other federal entities such as the National Security Council and even the White House had increased their scrutiny of USAID since the start of the Arab Spring. As a result, mission officials had to deal with new levels of bureaucracy and were responding constantly to different requests and demands from outside the Agency.

3. Host-Country Readiness.

In each of the four countries, employees reported problems stemming from award recipients’ ability to implement assistance programs. According to one employee, local capacity in Libya was a major problem because the country did not have a strong workforce. Moreover, local implementers had not developed the necessary technical capacity because development assistance was not a priority in Libya under Muammar Qadhafi’s closed, oil-rich regime. Activities in Tunisia and Yemen encountered similar issues because neither have had long histories of receiving foreign development assistance. In Egypt, employees reported that some of the nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working on the mission’s democracy and governance program also lacked sufficient capacity.

On Egypt:  More than 85 percent of the employees surveyed who worked on activities related to USAID/Egypt agreed that the State Department had increased its influence over USAID programs since the start of the Arab Spring (Figure 5). A number of respondents said State steered Agency programs to address political rather than development needs. This dynamic had a profound effect on the mission’s ability to follow USAID’s guidance on designing and implementing developmentally sound projects. […] Some mission officials questioned the value of adhering to USAID’s project design procedures when the State Department had already decided a project’s fate. […] In this example, State’s desire to award education scholarships to women in Egypt was difficult to justify because university enrollment data showed that higher education enrollment and graduation rates for women are slightly higher than for men.  […] With so many differing voices and perspectives, USAID employees said they were not getting clear, consistent guidance. They described the situation as having “too many cooks in the kitchen.” One survey respondent wrote:

State (or White House) has had a very difficult time making decisions on USAID programming for Egypt . . . so USAID has been paralyzed and sent through twists and turns. State/White House difficulties in decisions may be expected given the fluid situation, but there has been excessive indecision, and mixed signals to USAID.

On Tunisia: The State Department placed strict restrictions on the number of USAID employees allowed to be in-country. As a result, most Agency activities were managed from Washington, D.C. … [O]ne survey respondent wrote, “I have been working on Tunisia for nearly 3 years now, and have designed programs to be carried out there, but I’ve never been. I don’t feel like I have been able to do my job to the best of my ability without that understanding of the situation on the ground.”

On Libya: The attacks in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, had a profound impact on USAID operations in Libya. According to one interviewee, after the attacks USAID did not want to attract too much political attention and put a number of Agency activities in Libya on hold. The period of inactivity lasted from September 2012 to September 2013. It was not until October 2013, after Prime Minister Ali Zeidan was abducted, that the U.S. Government refocused attention on Libya and funding for activities picked up again.

Before the attacks, USAID had five employees in the country; afterward, only one was allowed to remain. Although his main priority then was to manage USAID/OTI projects in Libya, he also was asked to oversee four to five additional activities managed out of Washington—a stretch for any employee. As one survey respondent wrote, “The lack of people in the field in Libya (small footprint) means that DC overwhelms the field. People in the field are worked ragged.”

On Yemen: USAID/Yemen did not suffer from the challenges of unclear strategy that other USAID missions did in the region; 70 percent of respondents who worked on activities in Yemen believed that the Agency had a clear strategy for its post-Arab Spring activities (Figure 12). This is a stark contrast to responses related to USAID/Egypt, where only 22 percent believed that USAID had a clear strategy. …[O]ur survey also found a strong working relationship between USAID/Yemen and the State Department; the two often agreed on what needed to be done. […] Some respondents said the collaborative atmosphere was due to individual personalities and strong working relationships between USAID and State officials. One employee said because employees of both organizations lived and worked together in the close quarters, communication flowed freely as perspectives could be exchanged easily. …[O]ne senior USAID/Yemen official said, some of what needed to be done was so obvious that it was difficult for the two agencies not to agree.

Lessons Learned

The report offers 15 lessons learned including the development of a USAID transition plan at the country level, even if it may change. USAID/OIG says that by having a short-term transition plan, the Agency “would have a better platform to articulate its strategy, particularly when it disagrees with the decisions of other federal entities.”It also lists the following:

  • Resist the urge to implement large development projects that require the support of host governments immediately after a transition.
  • Prepare mission-level plans with Foreign Service Nationals (FSNs)—locally hired USAID employees who are not U.S. citizens—in case U.S. direct hires are evacuated. Evacuation of U.S. staff can be abrupt with only a few hours’ notice. People we interviewed recommended that U.S. staff develop plans with the mission’s FSN staff ahead of time, outlining roles, responsibilities, and modes of operation to prevent a standstill in operations in the event of an evacuation.
  • Get things in writing. When working in environments where USAID is getting input and instructions from organizations that are not familiar with Agency procedures, decisions made outside of USAID may be documented poorly. In such circumstances, it is important to remember to get things in writing.
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Dawn of Libya militia holds pool party at U.S. Embassy Libya Annex; they’ll cut the grass, too?

— Domani Spero
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Updated on 8/31/14 at 2302 PST:  AP and Reuters have an update on this here including additional photos of the rooms in the annex that appear to be in the condition they were left behind; the pantry appears to still have food items, the kitchen and gym did not look looted and the compound did not show signs of the reported “storming.”

Updated on 9/1/14 at 9:26pm PST: ABC News has additional photos of the annex here. Plus this: “Another commander said the group had asked cleaners to come spruce up the grounds and that U.S. staff were welcome to reside in the embassy while it was under Dawn of Libya control.”

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A commander of the Dawn of Libya militia, an Islamist-allied group in control of Tripoli has told an AP reporter that it has “secured” a U.S. Embassy residential compound in the capital city.  The AP report says that a walk-through in the compound shows some broken windows, but that “it appeared most of the equipment there remained untouched. The journalist saw treadmills, food, televisions and computers still inside.”

On July 26, the State Department suspended all embassy operations in Libya and evacuated all its staff overland to Tunisia (see State Dept Suspends All Embassy Operations in Libya, Relocates Staff Under Armed Escorts).  The U.S. Ambassador to Libya Deborah Jones is currently based at the U.S. Embassy in Malta.

 

Meanwhile, at the pool party at Embassy Tripoli’s compound residential annex:

 

And because Ambassador Jones is now reachable via Twitter, she was asked about it:

 

We don’t know what that means.  Who told these guys to “safeguard” a U.S. diplomatic property?  Did they bring their own whiskey to the pool party?

The good news is —  the Dawn of Libya militia apparently wrestled the compound from a rivaled militia and neither group set the compound on fire.  The bad news is “securing” the compound was apparently done to avenge U.S. airstrikes. If true, just “securing” the compound, a sip of whiskey and having a dip in the pool may not be enough.

The other good news , of course, if the U.S. needs to, DOD knows where  exactly to send its Predator drones and Navy F-18 fighter jets.

Not that we want the Pentagon to do that for many reasons.  Perhaps the uninvited guests can be persuaded to cut the grass, too, while they’re there?

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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.

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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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Tweet of the Day: “Thanks for showing me your gun. I like this one.”

— Domani Spero
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There are currently about three dozens U.S. ambassadors who are active on Twitter. One of them is our ambassador to Tripoli, Deborah K. Jones. A career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Ambassador Jones was nominated by President Obama to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to Libya in March 2013.  She tweets under the handle @SafiraDeborah. Below is one memorable exchange:

 

Boom shakalaka!

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US Embassy Libya: “…almost nothing more important than the safety and security of our staff”

— Domani Spero
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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry uncorks a bottle of champagne en route from Andrews Air Force Base to Stockholm, Sweden as he celebrates the first press briefing at the U.S. Department of State Department by his new Spokesperson, Jen Psaki, on May 13, 2013. [State Department photo / Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry uncorks a bottle of champagne en route from Andrews Air Force Base to Stockholm, Sweden as he celebrates the first press briefing at the U.S. Department of State Department by his new Spokesperson, Jen Psaki, on May 13, 2013. [State Department photo / Public Domain]

Via state/gov/DPB/July 15, 2014:

QUESTION: Can I ask one about Libya?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: It does seem as if – well, that the airport is – continue to be shelled, most of the planes even are damaged, I don’t – and the Embassy is near the airport, I mean, and it doesn’t seem as if there’s been any movement on any type of evacuation. So I’m just wondering what’s going on.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re obviously deeply concerned about the level of violence in Libya and some of the incidents you referred to. Every day, we make assessments about the level of violence and the impact on our personnel there, but I don’t have anything to predict for you or outline in terms of any changes to our security posture or level of staffing on the ground.

QUESTION: I mean, it seems as if there wouldn’t be any way for those employees to get out unless you had some kind of airlift because the airport is inoperable right now.

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, Elise, I think it’s safe to say that we evaluate every single factor when we’re making determinations about our staff. There’s nothing more important than the safety, almost nothing more important than the safety and security of our staff, but we do that in private and I have nothing to outline for you here from – publicly.

QUESTION: Is Ambassador Satterfield in Libya now or here?

MS. PSAKI: I know – I’m not sure, actually, where he is. We can check and see if we can get that information to you.

Meanwhile in the “why are we still in Tripoli edition?”our ambassador tweets this:

 

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

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

 

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)