Tuesday, February 22, 2011

State Dept unable to move dependents and staff out of #Libya ... why?

The State Department ordered the voluntary departure of family members from the US mission in Tripoli on Sunday. Yesterday, that became an ordered departure which means, the ambassador has determined that the situation has deteriorated to a point that family members and certain employees should leave post for their safety.  

Today PJ Crowley talks about State being "not able to move any of them out of the country" and moving the staff and family members out of Libya "over the next few days." Which is kinda confusing considering that he also said the airport in Tripoli remains open and we're talking about 35 individuals, plus whatever is the number of private Americans who requested to be evacuated. 

The spokesman said that the embassy dependents and staff members "are prepared to leave" and yet they were unable to leave. This bring us to the possibility that the Libyan government is causing problems over their departure ... ?  This is the same government who sent thugs to arrest two Swiss citizens in Libya (one of them the director of the Libyan office of the technology company ABB) after one of the Gaddafi sons was jailed for alleged physical abused of members of his domestic staff in Switzerland. 

[T]urning to Libya, yesterday the Department ordered U.S. Embassy family members and non-emergency personnel to depart Libya, and they will depart over the next few days. The safety of all American citizens in Libya remains our paramount concern. At our Embassy, we have approximately 35 employees and their families who are affected by this ordered departure. We continue to evaluate a range of transportation options to help them depart, along with other U.S. citizens who are present in Libya.

The airport in Tripoli remains open, but it is kind of a very challenging circumstance at the airport currently. Many international air carriers are increasing the number of seats available to respond to the demand for flights from Libya. And for American citizens who are there, they should maintain contact with their airline if they have tickets to depart.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that real quickly?


QUESTION: Just on the evacuation question. Can you tell us why they weren’t able to move out of the country already? My understanding was there was some expectation they would have done so yesterday.

MR. CROWLEY: We are – as I said, we have some options. We’ve been in touch with airlines, asking them – those that have regular commercial service and have been allowed to land in Tripoli – to perhaps send larger aircraft so that there are more seats available for those who wish to depart. We have charter flights standing by to travel to the airport if necessary. This is something that we continue to work with Libyan authorities. But the fact is, today we were not able to move any of our personnel out of the country.


QUESTION: And why was that?

QUESTION: Can you – first of all – hold on a second. I want to understand why that is the case. And then is it not true that some of them did go to the airport and then for some reason did not leave the country?

MR. CROWLEY: Kirit, I’m --

QUESTION: Why they didn’t leave already, and is it not true that some of them went to the airport and then did not board flights?

MR. CROWLEY: I think I just said for our official party, we are not able to move any of them out of the country today. And we will do our best, working with Libyan authorities, to move them out as quickly as we can.

QUESTION: And would you – are you considering any sort of sea routes as opposed – or overland routes as opposed to the airport?

MR. CROWLEY: We are evaluating, as are other countries – we’re not in this – other countries have made similar decisions to ours. They are looking for the safest course of evacuation. Land is an option, sea is an option, the commercial airport is open. Obviously, there are a great many people who are trying to depart Tripoli currently, so – and – but we’re working this with Libyan authorities.

QUESTION: And do you consider the airport to be a safe place for people to be right now?

MR. CROWLEY: Obviously, we’ve made this decision because we are concerned about the safety of our citizens, and – but we’re working as hard as we can to help our citizens depart.

QUESTION: P.J., number one, recognizing that it’s not a completely accurate figure, how many Americans are there registered with the Embassy in Libya?

MR. CROWLEY: Matt, it’s a good question. There are several thousand American citizens in Libya. Most of them are dual-nationals. Of those who have American citizenship, we’re talking in maybe the 600 range, give or take. Now, some of them work for energy companies, and as you’ve seen and reported, they themselves are shutting down their operations and making their way out of the country today. So as to how many require assistance from the Embassy, hard to know at this point. Our Embassy itself, as you can see in the numbers, it’s a relatively small post.
QUESTION: P.J., could you clarify the forced – the ordered departure? Could you clarify? You said you couldn’t get them out. Were there actually charter flights on the ground and you couldn’t --


QUESTION: There were not? Were the people gathered there as you were trying --

MR. CROWLEY: Again, Jill, I can’t give you a play-by-play from here. Our family members, the 35 or so that are affected by this, are prepared to leave. They may well be at the airport. I don't know. I’m sure there are American citizens at the airport who are attempting to leave. We are going to do everything in our power to help them. But right now, we’re working through existing commercial airline arrangements. We have the ability to bring in charters or other means to get people out if that becomes necessary. But that also requires the support of the Libyan Government.

QUESTION: So what --

QUESTION: So in other words, the Libyan Government said you cannot do this? They --

MR. CROWLEY: No, the Libyan Government has said that they will cooperate as we remove our citizens. And we are working with them on these arrangements.
QUESTION: My last question on Libya: You said that your priority now is to secure the evacuation of American citizens. Is this something that you were worried that the Libyan Government might retaliate from the American citizen if you speak up loudly or criticize them?

MR. CROWLEY: We obviously are concerned about the safety of our citizens. We’re working with the Libyan Government. They’ve pledged to support us in our evacuation, and we hope that cooperation will be forthcoming.

The Guardian reported on 22 February 2011 20.59 GMT that the UK is scrambling to match the rescue efforts of other countries evacuating their citizens from Libya, redeploying a Royal Navy warship and trying to get permission to send a charter plane to Tripoli in the next 48 hours.
"At a press conference, the foreign secretary announced that officials were now working with airline companies to get an aircraft out of Libya and would also be chartering their own plane, although it had not yet been given permission to land. Hague said HMS Cumberland would be redeployed from the eastern Mediterranean to berth in international waters off the coast, with a view to being given permission to enter Libyan waters in the event of a sea-borne evacuation of British citizens."

Foreign governments need permission from the Libyan govt to land, to enter its territorial waters, etc....which makes everything dicey and dangerous if that government is hanging by a thread at the edge of a deep cliff...

Map from CIA World Factbook/Regional Map


TSB said...

Exit visas are needed to depart Libya, and that might be part of what Crowley was refering to as "the support of the government of Libya."

FYI, I understand that Libyan officials are stamping passports right now for U.S. citizens boarding the ferry for Malta, so maybe everyone will be out soon.

Domani Spero said...

Thanks TSB!

John Burgess said...

Another factor is that the Libyan government is still expected to provide security for evacuees as long as they're in the country. They may not be able to do this adequately, at least to satisfy USG expectations.

I certainly don't know the dynamics on the ground, but if there are hostile crowds, the RSO is likely not capable of providing adequate security.

Domani Spero said...

@ John B. Thanks! I thought it may have to do with both exit permits/security. But today, also learned, the non departure had to do with bad weather. It is worrisome since the fighting seems to be moving to Tripoli, we have amcits stuck at port, and we still have the emergency personnel at post.