The US State Department has recommended that all Americans in Libya leave the country immediately due to deteriorating security conditions. Meanwhile, authorities appear to be deploying forces to the region in case officials have to be evacuated.
In a travel warning issued yesterday, the department said it had minimized staff at its Tripoli embassy and described the security situation in Libya as "unpredictable and unstable." "US citizens currently in Libya should exercise extreme caution and depart immediately,” it advised, after warning that foreigners in the country might be assumed to have links with the US authorities and be “targeted for kidnapping, violent attacks, or death” as a result.
Meanwhile, the amphibious assault ship USMC Bataan (which presumably no longer has any crew members high on synthetic cannabis) has moved into the Mediterranean Sea and is ready to be used should US personnel need to be evacuated from Libya. Anonymous US officials told the Associated Press that the vessel will not be positioned off the Libyan coast, but will be able to respond quickly if needed.
The USS Bataan has been moved into the Mediterranean Sea and could be used in the event US citizens need to be evacuated from Libya. These B-roll videos from the US Navy and DVIDs show the USS Bataan on various missions.
State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said during yesterday’s daily press briefing that the Bataan is there in case it is needed “to protect US personnel and facilities... in North Africa.”
Last week US forces were also deployed to Signorella, Sicily. This group contained several MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft along with a force of about 180 marines and sailors, and would be able to reach Tripoli in a little over an hour.
Psaki said a crisis response task force had moved to a naval air station in Sicily, describing it as a precautionary measure. "This positioning was done in the event these resources are needed in the future," she said.
These movements suggest that recent unrest in Tripoli and Benghazi has spooked US authorities, leading them to look seriously into evacuation plans.
The security situation in Libya has deteriorated since militia leader and former rebel commander General Khalifa Hifter launched an offensive against armed Islamist groups in Benghazi, leading to some of the heaviest fighting seen since the country's 2011 uprising.
Hifter portrays himself as taking on extremist Islamist groups and accuses Islamist militant and political factions of having made a power grab in the country.
Today, his air forces bombed bases belong to Islamist militia groups in the city. Footage posted to social media channels shows a thick plume of smoke rising above Benghazi after the bombings.
The attacks came the day after the leader of Islamist militant group Ansar al-Sharia’s Benghazi faction Mohamed Zahawi warned the US not to interfere in goings on and accused it of backing Hifter.
The US lists Ansar al-Sharia as a terrorist organization and believes it is responsible for masterminding the 2012 attack on the American consulate in Benghazi which killed US Ambassador Chris Stevens along with three other Americans.
Hifter’s forces briefly seized the Libyan parliament building on May 18 and said it had assigned a 60-member constituent assembly to run parliament, according to AFP.
Libya's central government looks more ineffectual than ever, unable to manage without nor control the sharply divided armed groups that hold the balance of power in the country.
The international community urged calm. “We are deeply concerned by the ongoing conflict, and call on all sides to refrain from the use of force and to address differences by political means,” Psaki said yesterday, also stating that the US intended to support drafting the constitution.
She added that the US has not had contact with Hifter and that it was continuing to review the security situation.
Libya has been far from stable since an armed uprising removed longtime ruler Muammar Qaddafi from power in 2011. Since then, once fairly unified rebel forces have fragmented into a number of militia groups divided along ethnic, geographical, and religious lines. Each holds sway over a different part of the country and all are making plays for power and influence. The rebel groups have proven almost impossible for the government to control and some have even seized oil pipelines and ports.
Parliament itself has been split between the majority Islamists and their opponents, with each backed by their attendant militias. As a result, Libya is now on its third prime minister since March, and a long-promised new constitution remains unwritten due to bickering between rival factions.
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