Amid Escalating Violence in Libya, No Decision to Evacuate U.S. Embassy

By Susan Jones | July 16, 2014 | 9:59 AM EDT

Smoke rises near the international airport in Tripoli, Libya on Sunday, July 13, 2014.  (AP Photo)

( - As fighting between rival militias rages in Libya -- the worst fighting seen in Tripoli since dictator Moammar Gadhafi was toppled in 2011, the Associated Press reported -- "no decision has been made" to evacuate the U.S. Embassy, the Obama administration said on Tuesday.

"That's a decision only the State Department can make," Rear Admiral John Kirby told a news conference. "And as in Libya or anywhere else in the world, we remain postured and prepared to assist in those kinds of effort should they be required, but they're not right now, and there's been no request to do that."

The United Nations on Monday announced it is temporarily withdrawing its staff from Libya now that the fighting has closed the international airport in Tripoli.

The Libyan government says that 90 percent of the aircraft and several buildings at the airport have been damaged or destroyed in three days of shelling.

The U.S. Embassy is near the airport, and on Tuesday, the State Department was asked about possible evacuations:

"Well, we're obviously deeply concerned about the level of violence in Libya and some of the incidents you referred to," State Department spokesman Jen Psaki said.

"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.

"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 publicly."

Another reporter asked Psaki about the way the Obama administration handled the end of the 2011 conflict that toppled Gadhafi -- "and the lack of political engagement, kind of now you see, you know, a lot of violence and instability." The reporter wondered if the turmoil in Libya, Iraq, and the wider Middle East "is a direct result of U.S. foreign policy failures."

"I would refute that completely," Psaki said. "There have been a range of factors happening in the Middle East and other parts of the world as well, including the growth of some extremist groups. You've seen the proposal the president's put on the table, putting a counterterrorism fund in place, $5 billion, to try to address the threats from where we face them.

U.S. 'never been more engaged'

"The United States has never been more engaged in more places in the world than it is today," she insisted, pointing to Secretary of State John Kerry's recent travels:

"The secretary alone, if you look at his level of engagement, he has spent the last 10 days ... in China, while discussing with parties in the region, with the Israelis, with the Egyptians, with others what to do about the situation in Israel while at the same time negotiating a deal in Afghanistan. There -- this is not an administration or a secretary that rests."

"But, like, where are the other top foreign policy advisers in this administration?" the reporter followed up: "And there was a recent, you know, op-ed by a very senior columnist, Fred Hiatt of The Washington Post, that suggested that, you know, maybe there needs to be rethink of the president's foreign policy team because the bench -- you know, given that the secretary is pulled in so many directions and he's really -- you know, obviously he's America's top diplomat, but, you know, there are supposed to be others. I mean, it seems like the bench is pretty thin."

"I would disagree with that," Psaki replied. "The role any secretary plays is to be on the front lines of diplomacy and to be the person negotiating and reporting back.

Psaki said Kerry "loves his job" and he's "happy to be out there representing the administration and spending time through tough negotiations and trying to grapple with some of the world's biggest challenges. But I would remind you that he remains in close touch on the road with everybody from the national security adviser to Secretary Hagel to, when warranted, the president of the United States."

Separately, Pentagon spokesman Kirby told reporters that the Defense Department "learned certain lessons from Benghazi, and one of them was to make sure that because of the instability throughout that arc all the way from the Levant to the Sahel, we need to be even more forward-leaning than perhaps we are in some -- in some other parts of the world."

Kirby said the U.S. Africa Command and the U.S. European Command "have the resources they need. They have -- they have plans prepared. They're postured to support those kinds of missions should we be called upon to do."

The U.S. Embassy on Monday urged American citizens in Libya "to avoid Tripoli International Airport, Airport Road and Swani Road due to armed clashes in these areas.
The embassy noted that all flights in and out of the Tripoli airport have been suspended because of heavy fighting there.

"U.S. citizens should exercise extreme caution within the vicinity of these and in outlying areas. The Embassy is only able to provide limited emergency services to U.S. citizens at this time and reminds U.S. citizens who are in Libya or who may be contemplating a visit to Libya to review the U.S. Department of State's Travel Warning Dated May 27, 2014."

Libya's interim government reportedly may ask the international community to send troops to the country, the AP reported on Tuesday.

Also See:
As Libya Disintegrates, Obama Administration Calls for 'Dialogue'

2 ½ Years Later: Obama Says Libya Still Needs ‘Basic Security’

FLASHBACK—Obama: ‘I Authorized’ Intervention in Libyan Civil War Because ‘Writ of International Community Must Enforced’

Obama: UN ‘Legitimated’ U.S. Action in Libya