Skip to main content
Advertising

Originally published Friday, May 16, 2014 at 8:48 PM

  • Share:
           
  • Comments (0)
  • Print

U.S. troops deploy near Libya as safety concerns rise

Alarmed by developments in Libya, the United States this week moved 200 troops to a base in Sicily so they could respond more quickly if the U.S. needs to evacuate its embassy in Tripoli.


McClatchy Washington Bureau

advertising

WASHINGTON — Alarmed by developments in Libya, the United States this week moved 200 troops to a base in Sicily so they could respond more quickly if the U.S. needs to evacuate its embassy in Tripoli, two administration officials have told McClatchy.

The troop move is the latest acknowledgment from the Obama administration that three years after a NATO bombing campaign helped topple the government of Moammar Gadhafi, conditions in the oil-producing country are deteriorating and security concerns that previously were confined to Benghazi and Libya’s east have spread to Tripoli, the capital, and the country’s west.

Of special concern is that Islamist militias could easily close Tripoli’s airport, complicating any effort to evacuate U.S. diplomats if the situation deteriorates further. Militias also are in position to seize control of Libya’s other airports, including the one in Benghazi, where militants in 2012 attacked U.S. diplomatic facilities, killing four Americans including the ambassador, Christopher Stevens.

One senior diplomat in Tripoli said U.S. officials are living under severe security restrictions. “You have to have a new normal,” said the diplomat, who was not authorized to talk to the media and spoke on condition of anonymity. “We’re built to hunker down.”

The fluidity of the situation in Tripoli played out again Friday, as Algeria reportedly sent in members of its special forces and a military plane to evacuate its ambassador and staff after militants threatened them.

Since the attacks on the U.S. outpost in Benghazi, there have been a number of assassinations and kidnappings of diplomats and other leaders in Tripoli, including the prime minister, Ali Zaidan, who subsequently resigned and fled the country. Key members of the government that replaced Zaidan’s, including the deputy intelligence chief, Mustafa Noah, have been kidnapped as well.

But the apparent impetus for the U.S. troop movement was the release this week of Jordan’s ambassador to Libya, Fawaz al-Itan, after 28 days as a hostage, possibly in exchange for Jordan’s release from jail of a top Libyan Islamist.

Officials fear the deal might encourage more kidnappings.

How long the U.S. troops will remain in Sicily was unknown, but the security situation in Libya is unlikely to improve soon.

The central government’s lack of control over its fragmented military was never more evident than Friday, when fierce fighting gripped Benghazi after a key commander in the 2011 uprising, Gen. Khalifa Hifter, commandeered government troops and air power to attack Islamist militias. It was the worst fighting there in three years.

The central government said it had not authorized the attack by Hifter, who was a well-known commander during Libya’s incursion into neighboring Chad in the 1980s but left Libya for years before returning as the anti-Gadhafi rebellion gained momentum.

Many expected him to assume command of a post-Gadhafi national army, though that never took place.

Residents of Benghazi said that while they were uncertain they could trust Hifter, they welcomed anyone waging a serious campaign against the militias that control the city.

At least nine troops were killed and 43 others wounded in Friday’s fighting, during which Hifter’s forces captured the western entrance to the city from Ansar al-Shariah, the largest militant group in Libya.

Ansar al-Shariah members are believed to have been responsible for the Sept. 11, 2012, attack that killed Stevens.



Want unlimited access to seattletimes.com? Subscribe now!

News where, when and how you want it

Email Icon


Advertising
The Seattle Times

The door is closed, but it's not locked.

Take a minute to subscribe and continue to enjoy The Seattle Times for as little as 99 cents a week.

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited seattletimes.com content access is included with most subscriptions.

Subscriber login ►
The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription upgrade.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. For unlimited seattletimes.com access, please upgrade your digital subscription.

Call customer service at 1.800.542.0820 for assistance with your upgrade or questions about your subscriber status.

The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. Subscribe now for unlimited access!

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited seattletimes.com content access is included with most subscriptions.

Activate Subscriber Account ►