After having said they reserved the right to strike ISIS targets as a reply to the killing of 21 Coptic Christians today by Libyan Islamic militants, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi made good on his word and ordered attacks on targets in Libya tonight. According to the BBC:
“Egypt reserves the right to respond at the proper time and in the appropriate style in retaliation against those inhuman criminal killers,” President Sisi said.
“Egypt and the whole world are in a fierce battle with extremist groups carrying extremist ideology and sharing the same goals.”
The workers, who live in Egypt but were working in northern Libya when they were captured, we executed by ISIS simply for being Christian. Libya, for its part, is virtually without a government since 2011 when dictator Muommar Quadaffi was deposed, captured and executed with the help of US airstrikes. Since then, America has had our consulate in Benghazi attacked and shut down and we abandoned our embassy in Tripoli.
Overall, we have little influence in Libya. Recent reports say that what little government exists in Libya close to bankrupt. Most of Libya’s income is in the form of oil sales, and an attack in January dropped oil production significantly – possibly as much as 2/3. In response, the US State Department issued a sternly-worded statement, jointly with with our partners:
The governments of France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States strongly condemn all acts of violence within Libya, including the February 3 attack carried out by forces operating under the Alshuruq Operation in the Oil Crescent area. These attacks undermine the efforts of Libyans who are working to bring peace and stability to the country through the UN-led negotiations.
Shuruq translates to ‘sunrise’ in English and refers to a group called Libyan Dawn as referred to by an Algerian newspaper:
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, the minister said information obtained by his government from Libyan military intelligence indicated that Sudanese technicians had assisted pilots from the Libyan Dawn group in commandeering a plane that struck oil tanks in the Sidra port during the past week.
The attack launched on Libya’s largest oil terminal saw militants fire rockets from speedboats, setting alight huge oil tanks and causing Libya’s oil production to plunge by two-thirds, to 350,000 barrels per day (bpd), according to the state oil company.
Libyan Dawn captured large parts of the Libyan capital Tripoli in September, forcing the internationally recognized government of Prime Minister Abdullah Al-Thinni out of the city, with its parliament relocated to Tobruk, near the Egyptian border. Libyan Dawn set up its own rival parliament in Tripoli.
The State Department continued:
The only people who ultimately benefit from continued fighting over Libya’s oil terminals and cities are terrorists. We are concerned by the growing presence of terrorist organizations in Libya, and by the attacks on the Corinthia last week and on the Mabrook oil field earlier this week.
This is stating the obvious. If the attack on the oilfield didn’t benefit the terrorists, the terrorists wouldn’t have attacked it! The embassy moved its personnel out of the country on July 24th of 2014, marking the third embassy from which we have been removed from since Obama took office (Syria in 2011 and Lebanon in 2013). Libya was the first embassy that produced evidence of having been looted by Islamist fighters, although the State Department claims it was being safeguarded. Does this look like safeguarding?
No, it doesn’t to me either. Oddly enough, the same group that was ‘safeguarding’ our Embassy is the Libya Dawn group that just attacked the oilfields in January and forced the elected government in Libya out of their capital and into hiding. And we expect they aren’t ransacking our embassy? This is the not the only time the State Department has been unable to express an understanding of reality. Last week, we abandoned our embassy in Yemen. Once again, the State Department left the fate of the embassy to chance, and Jen Psaki, the State Department spokesperson, had a difficult time explaining the situation to reporters at a press conference. The transcript should be read by everyone.
QUESTION: All right. And then you have seen reports that the rebels seized all of the vehicles, the Embassy vehicles that had gone to the airport along with some weapons. One, what’s the status of that? And two, are you confident that the people who left and the local staff completed whatever kind of document destruction, whatever kind of things you’re supposed to do before they – when you’re closing an embassy before they left?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Well, on the first piece, upon our departure, our vehicles and equipment were seized, reportedly by the Houthis. We are looking into this. Clearly, it is unacceptable and we would reiterate that in order to return to Sana’a, respect for property, respect for our facilities is an essential component of that. So we certainly are requesting they be returned.
QUESTION: I’m a little mystified as – you have essentially evacuated the embassy. You drove all these cars to the airport and you expected in the middle of a war zone that no one was going to take these cars? You thought that they would be safe just sitting there?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more to outline for you on the cars, Matt.
QUESTION: Well, I just don’t understand. I mean, what – you didn’t – I mean, there are local embassy staffers who are still on the ground there. Was – could they not have driven them if not back to the embassy compound where they might – but we don’t know – be locked up and safe, at least to their own homes?
MS. PSAKI: I’m sure there were a range of options considered. I don’t have anything more to outline for you on the cars at this point.
QUESTION: So they were just left there with the expectation that if and when the security situation returns to normal they would still be there and —
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more details for you on the cars.
QUESTION: What about the weapons? There’s also reports that the Houthis seized the Marines’ weapons. Is that accurate? And were the weapons disabled before they were handed over?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more details on that to outline for you. Obviously, we’re looking into all of these reports. I confirmed for you all that some vehicles were taken. I don’t have numbers. I don’t have specifics on what was in the vehicles at this point in time.
QUESTION: Well, what about the – or do you have anything at all on the weapons? Were weapons handed over?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more details at this point in time.
QUESTION: You said that you were confident that all the procedures, the normal procedures that you do when you’re going to suspend operations at an embassy, were done, that they did everything that they were required to do under your guidelines. Does that include these vehicles? And the reason I ask is it just seems to me to be very odd, and naive at worst, if you – I mean, if I drove my car into a war zone and just parked it, and not knowing when I would return, I don’t think that I would that it would be still sitting there in perfectly good shape by the time I got back, particularly if it was an expensive armored Chevy Suburban or something like that. I mean, was the procedure followed as it related to the moveable property of the Embassy?
MS. PSAKI: Obviously, our priority here was about moving our personnel safely out of Yemen. I don’t have more details other than to note for you that clearly the cars would not be able to come on the plane. So I’m sure they considered a range of options. I’m happy to check if there’s more specifics about the process.
QUESTION: Well, I’m not – I’m just wondering if the – I mean, no, no one’s saying that they should have gone on the plane. But I mean, some – there could have been some arrangement made for the local staff to drive them back to some protected place instead of just leaving them at the airport. I mean, that just seems like – I don’t know what it seems like. It just seems odd. Anyway, it would be interesting to know if there is some kind of policy on the disposition of vehicles and other moveable property that you – when an embassy is evacuated.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: And find out if you’re satisfied that it was followed in this case.
MS. PSAKI: I will check with our team.
QUESTION: So right now the security of the Embassy compound itself and the property that’s affiliated with it is – who is responsible for that?
MS. PSAKI: Well —
QUESTION: Is there anyone guarding – the local guards or —
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to discuss our security precautions we take. Obviously, we take them in any of these circumstances. We expect the Houthis to respect international conventions that apply to our facilities and to expect – and to be – and we expect to be able to return to the Embassy in the same condition. There were reports also, I think, that some had entered the compound. We don’t have anything to confirm those reports at this time.
QUESTION: When you say that you expect the Houthis to comply with the international – I mean, why would you expect them to do that, or you just hope that they would?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly hope they would. They’ve made public statements about how they are not – they have no desire to go after our interests, go after our materials. So we expect them to abide by their own statements.
QUESTION: But it sounds as though you’re basically – it’s an honor system because you don’t have anyone – any other country that still has an Embassy there lined up to be – to serve as a protecting power.
MS. PSAKI: I’m not suggesting that. Obviously, we just moved – we just made this announcement about the suspension yesterday. And we take every precaution – I’m not going to outline the security steps we take, but we’re also in discussions about the protecting power question.
In a nutshell: They evacuated the embassy in cars they drove to the airport and just left parked there, hoping they’d be there if and when we are ever able to return to the country. They were immediately seized by the same rebels that caused us to evacuate, and we are shocked (shocked, I say!) that they broke their promise and took them. They also seized our weapons and reportedly are inside the embassy. We asked nicely for them to give the equipment back and to keep their word. Otherwise, we have no idea what to do and no ability to do it even if we did. Nobody is protecting our embassy because we left before we could make arrangements with anyone.
Is there any more irresponsible way to have processed this withdrawal? She is sure that procedures were followed for destruction of property, but for a department that thinks it can park cars in a warzone indefinitely doesn’t seem to be one that would have adequately prepared the embassy for occupation either. They are all too willing to believe these evil groups at their word and get taken advantage of at every turn. The only good news is that reporters are starting to wisen up:
QUESTION: Jen, more broadly on Yemen, this is the third embassy that you guys have had to uncharitably, perhaps, say, abandon in an Arab Spring country since the first one, which was Syria. Is there a broader concern that you’re being – the U.S. is being run out of town in the Arab world?
MS. PSAKI: We certainly don’t look at it in that way. I would remind you that we were not the only country that moved our staff out of Yemen last night, and we have to take precautions to protect the men and women who are serving on our behalf. There’s no question that in each of the countries you’ve mentioned there’s a great bit of volatility, but that’s – the fact is that that’s what’s happening on the ground. It’s not a reflection of the United States and our engagement. It’s a reflection of the trouble and challenges happening in these countries.
QUESTION: Okay. So the Administration would take issue with people who are suggesting that these – this latest evacuation, combined with the other two, you would take issue with the suggestion that that is reflective of some failure in the Administration’s policy to deal with the aftermath or even the – well, to deal with the aftermath of the Arab Spring and the revolutions throughout the region.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Matt, as you know, the UK and France also moved their staff out of Yemen last night. Clearly, we’ve talked about and the President and others have talked about regrets as it relates to Libya. There’s a civil war happening in Syria. So what I would say is there are challenging circumstances in each of these countries. What the United States leadership is reflected in is the fact that we want to return. We want to be engaged. We want to play a role if we can play a role, as do these other countries. But these are difficult challenges that we need to determine how we can best play a role.
QUESTION: But I think that there is people that would say that wanting to play a role and hoping that you can return is not exactly a leadership role. Is that – I mean —
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would —
QUESTION: Hoping that the situation in Yemen, without your – without U.S. diplomats on the ground to report back on and to have communications with all the people – with all the parties involved, doesn’t seem to be a leadership role.
MS. PSAKI: Well, we have our own interests in Yemen and we are continuing to implement those.
QUESTION: Clearly, you have less interests in Yemen than you did yesterday.
The State Department announced this weekend that it expects a “complex attack” against our embassy in Afghanistan. How many more embassies will get closed and looted before Obama is gone?