Libya Shuts U.S. Embassy Fearing Violence


For the past few weeks Tripoli, Libya has experienced political unrest and clashes between rebel militia groups involving bombs and incessant fighting for control. The U.S. Embassy in Libya has had to be shut for the second time in three years, fearing violence near the compound that threatened the safety of the diplomats.

It is reported that the violence that has ensued in the past two weeks is worse than what was observed in eastern Benghazi and Tripoli since Muammar Gaddafi’s autocratic defeat in 2011. Gaddafi, who was overthrown in 2011 after a war with NATO’s support, paved the way to form a new government that is now spiralling out of control.

The free-wheeling militia comprised of rebel fighters who once fought together against Gaddafi are now facing off against  each other. Control of Tripoli International Airport is reported to be the reason rivalry has stemmed between the comrades who once fought together against a common enemy. After Gaddafi lost power in 2011 fighters from Zintan, a town in western Libya, and their allies have been in control of the area that included the airport, while rivals have based themselves in Misrata and other parts of Tripoli.

Marie Harf, State Department spokeswoman, explained that the 158 diplomats at the embassy had to be moved to a secure place in Tunisia, as their security was a top priority. The Libyan militia and the violence caused by their clashes, especially since the attacks were near the embassy’s compound, initiated the temporary relocation. After the diplomats were moved to safety from continuing violent attacks the U.S. embassy in Libya was shut down.

Security is at its lowest in Libya. The militia made up of ex-rebel fighters have bombed each other for two weeks now. Artillery and rockets have been used on both sides near the U.S. embassy compound in southern Tripoli.

Osprey aircraft carrying U.S. marines and three F-16s provided aerial support ahead of the U.S. convoy that traveled for over five hours to Tunisia. U.S. officials reported no incidents from Tripoli en route Tunisia.

Reuters reported no signs of personnel or movement at the gate of the U.S. embassy in Libya, based a few kilometers from the Tripoli International airport. The airport that has been the center of the fight between the rebel fighters was attacked two weeks ago. At least 50 people were killed in Tripoli and most international flights were shut down. Turkey and the United Nations decided to evacuate their diplomatic staff after the attacks.

Although Tripoli did not observe any security issues prior to the attack on the airport, the killing of at least 25 people escalated the fighting. Islamist militants and Libyan special forces faced off in Benghazi, as hospitals reported more casualties. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who is currently in Paris called the current situation in Libya “free-wheeling militia violence” and a threat to U.S. staff based at the embassy in Tripoli. With the U.S. staff whisked away to safety in Tunisia, the U.K. is following suit.

The British foreign office urged British nationals in Tripoli to leave Libya by commercial means to avoid the fighting and instability in Libya. Britain is looking out for the safety of its diplomatic staff in Libya, as fighting intensified forced the U.S. embassy to be shut down fearing violence in the near future.

By Rathan Paul Harshavardan

Al Jazeera
NBC News

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