'Freewheeling Militia Violence' Forced US to Evacuate Embassy in Libya, Kerry Says

PHOTO: In this image made from video by The Associated Press, smoke rises from the direction of Tripoli airport in Tripoli, Libya, Sunday, July 13, 2014.
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The U.S. State Department was forced to suspend operations at its embassy in Tripoli, Libya, because of "freewheeling militia violence" there, Secretary of State John Kerry said today.

Kerry, who spoke to reporters before a meeting with the Turkish and Qatari foreign ministers about Gaza, made the comments after the State Department announced it evacuated its staff in Tripoli.

He blamed the "freewheeling militia violence," caused by jihadist groups that have only grown in power since the ouster of former president Muammar Gaddafi, for creating an environment in which the diplomatic activities at the Libya embassy had to be suspended.

"A lot of the violence is around our embassy but not on the embassy, but nevertheless it presents a very real risk to our personnel," Kerry said.

PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, center, speaks with Qatari Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiyah, right, and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on July 26, 2014 in Paris.
Charles Dharapak/AP Photo
PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, center, speaks with Qatari Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiyah, right, and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on July 26, 2014 in Paris.

As a result, embassy personnel were transported in armored vehicles to Tunisia and dispersed throughout the region from there, a U.S. official told ABC News. They were escorted by at least one drone, two F-16 fighter jets and two MV-22 Osprey helicopters.

Before leaving, staff members destroyed documents at the embassy, said State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf.

"Classified holdings were destroyed in accordance with procedures. Some classified equipment not normally destroyed was taken out," she said.

Kerry insisted the special envoy to the region, David Satterfield, would continue to engage with his British counterpart, and that the U.S. embassy personnel would return as soon as the situation stabilized.

But he stressed the need for Libyans to engage in a peaceful political process in order to permanently change the tide of violence in the violence-ridden nation.

"We're very, very hopeful that those people will recognize that the current course of violence will only bring chaos and possibly a return of difficulties," Kerry said.

The State Department also issued a travel warning for Libya and urged Americans there to leave.

The groups in Tripoli have been fighting for weeks, with dozens killed and wounded on all sides.

The withdrawal comes two years after a deadly attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi.

ABC News' Chris Good, Luis Martinez and Ben Candea contributed to this report.

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