— -- The U.S. State Department hasn’t set a date for returning to its embassy in Tripoli, Libya and likely won’t “begin to consider such a return” until 2016, according to a recent State Department report, citing the U.S. Ambassador to Libya.
The State Department Inspector General report, published online Wednesday, looked into what the department should do with 26 armored vehicles – estimated to cost $200,000 each – that were left in Tunisia after American officials in Tripoli had to make a hasty, overland escape from the Libyan capital last summer amid a quickly deteriorating security situation.
Beginning at dawn, it took five hours for the convoy’s black SUVs and other vehicles to slip out of Tripoli and drive 250 miles through the desert to an American airbase in Tunisia, a spokesperson for the Pentagon said July 26, 2014. The whole time F-16s, troop-carrying tilt-rotor aircraft and other American aerial surveillance assets were keeping an eye on the precarious expedition.
Officials said the operation came off without a hitch, but apparently in the intervening months no one at the State Department put a lot of thought into what to do with the more than $5 million-worth of vehicles that were eventually brought to Tunis and then left to collect dust. The IG report notes that armored vehicles can “deteriorate rapidly, particularly when they are stored outdoors or exposed to harsh weather conditions, such as those that can occur in Tunis.”
Embassy personnel in Tunis said they would take measures to help protect the vehicles from the elements so that they’d be good to go when the U.S. wanted to take them back to Libya, but that’s when the U.S. Ambassador reportedly gave the IG the bad news: The U.S. isn’t going back anytime soon.
“However, according to the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, there is no established date for returning to Tripoli, and the earliest date for beginning to consider such a return would be 2016,” the report says.
A State Department official further told ABC News, "We take the security of our diplomatic institutions and personnel seriously."
"We are constantly assessing the security situation in every country around the world, as we continue to do in Libya," the official said. "We cannot predict when conditions will allow for the re-opening of our Embassy in Libya."
Libya has devolved into widespread unrest since the ousting and death of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. In 2012, the then-U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, was killed along with three other Americans in an attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi.
After the Benghazi attack, the U.S. maintained its embassy in Tripoli until last July, when rival militia groups “began vying for control” of Tripoli’s international airport -– not far from the U.S. embassy. That was enough for the U.S. to pull the plug and get its people out.
Francois Heisbourg, Chairman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said after the July 2014 evacuation that getting diplomats back to Libya could be harder than getting them out.
“The decision to close may have come quite naturally, but it’s going to be a very difficult responsibility to reopen the embassy,” Heisbourg told Reuters then. “That is one where the ghosts of Benghazi are going to come back again.”
Since then, the terror group ISIS has established an affiliate in Libya, which in recent days reportedly took control of Gadhafi’s old home town of Sirte.
A stark travel warning from the State Department in January painted a dire picture of the country where control of the capital has fallen to militant groups, “military-grade” weapons are in the hands of militias and regular people and there are repeated calls for attacks on American citizens and interests.
“U.S. citizens currently in Libya should exercise extreme caution and depart immediately,” the warning says.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.