United States military personnel evacuated the U.S. embassy in the Libyan capital of Tripoli after heavy fighting forced the State Department to order its staff out of the country.
“Due to the ongoing violence resulting from clashes between Libyan militias in the immediate vicinity of the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, we have temporarily relocated all of our personnel out of Libya,” State Department spokesman Marie Harf said in a statement Saturday.
Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said the evacuation took five hours to complete, “without incident.” CNN reported that the plans were put in place several days ago, but the evacuation wasn’t ordered until Saturday.
“All embassy personnel were relocated, including the Marine security guards who were providing security at the embassy and during the movement. The embassy staff was driven in vehicles to Tunisia. During movement, F-16’s, ISR assets and an Airborne Response Force with MV-22 Ospreys provided security,” Kirby said.
The embassy remains open, but the State Department also urged U.S. citizens in Libya to “depart immediately.”
“Securing our facilities and ensuring the safety of our personnel are top department priorities, and we did not make this decision lightly. Security has to come first. Regrettably, we had to take this step because the location of our embassy is in very close proximity to intense fighting and ongoing violence between armed Libyan factions,” Harf said.
The evacuation comes nearly three years after Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s regime was overthrown. The country has been embroiled in a civil war as warring militias fight for control of the government. Two years ago, an attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi resulted in the death of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and two other Americans.
In a statement, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., said he is praying for the safety of all Americans in Libya. “I wish them a safe return, and for the safety of American troops watching over them.”