Sunday, July 27, 2014

Safety and the US embassies

Today on ABC's This Week, Jonathan Karl declared, "It's an extraordinary move the president rarely makes completely shutting down a U.S. embassy and rushing the Americans inside to safety. That call was made in South Vietnam at the end of the war, in Somalia nearly two years before Blackhawk Down and just hours ago President Obama did it again ordering the evacuation of our embassy in Libya with a daring and dangerous military operation to evacuate the Americans there on the ground."

Libya is where terrorists attacked Americans on September 11, 2012 -- leaving US Ambassador Chris Stevens, Tyrone Woods, Glen Doherty and Sean Smith dead. Some testimony to Congress indicates the risks were taken because the US government was determined to establish a bigger and growing presence in Libya.

Right now, they have none.

Jim Miklaszewski, Courtney Kube and Elisha Fieldstadt (NBC News) explain:

American officials told NBC News that the 158 Americans, including 80 heavily armed U.S. Marines, left the embassy compound early Saturday in a caravan of SUV's and buses and drove west toward neighboring Tunisia.
Besides the Marines who were the embassy’s security force, the caravan was also protected overhead by two American F-16 fighter jets and unmanned drones that shadowed the group on their drive.         

For This Week, Terry Moran offered:

MORAN: As fighting increased in Tripoli, Ambassador Deborah Jones and her staffers were spirited out of the heavily fortified compound about 150 people, nearly half of them marines.
A convoy of armored SUVs, a surveillance drone flying above, two F-16 fighter jets patrolling nearby and at sea a destroyer ready to react.
Photos released by the Pentagon show U.S. marines on board Osprey aircraft ready to land if the convoy came under attack.

Pentagon spokesperson Rear Adm Jack Kirby declared Saturday, "The mission was conducted without incident, and the entire operation lasted approximately five hours."

The US has embassy staff around the world.  For us, the events in Libya made us think of Iraq and the US Embassy (and consulates) there.  

Raising the flag

Wednesday, the Defense Department's Elissa Slotkin appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee and testified:

First, we have added forces to protect U.S. personnel in Iraq. The safety of U.S. citizens and personnel in Baghdad and throughout Iraq is our highest priority. The Department of Defense is meeting all requests from the Department of State for security support to US Embassy Baghdad. As described in the War Powers notifications we transmitted to Congress on June 16 and 26, DoD has sent a Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team (FAST ), a Crisis Response Element (CRE), and additional military assets and personnel to reinforce security at our diplomatic facilities in Baghdad and the Baghdad International Airport.

Thursday, she and the State Department's Brett McGurk appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the following exchange took place:

Senator Barbara Boxer: Last question is: Are you confident we have adequate personnel on the ground to truly protect our embassy and the Americans in Baghdad?

Brett McGurk: Uh, Senator, yes.  We have moved in substantial assets both into the airport and also into the embassy.  Uhm, I was just there as late as [last] Thursday and we're confident that our defensive parameters and everything -- that our people will be safe.  Our Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security just visited Baghdad last week to do his own assessment.  We've also had teams on the ground from Centcom and this is an ongoing assessment.  And our intelligence assets have the entire everything all around the parameter of Baghdad, the airport and our embassy, very well covered so we're 

Senator Barbara Boxer: Okay.  Can you tell us how many people we have at the embassy or is that something that you don't want to discuss in open --

Brett McGurk:  We have total in Baghdad about-about 2500 now.

Both the State Department and the Defense Department made the administration's position clear to the Congress last week.  As far as the White House is concerned, all necessary precautions have been taken.  Hopefully, that is the case.

However, should events demonstrate that was not the case, the testimony administration officials provided will be especially worth recalling.

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