KAILUA, Hawaii – Four U.S. military personnel were detained and then released by the Libyan government Friday. The circumstances of their detention were not immediately clear in a region that has been gripped by violence.
Shortly after 6 p.m., as President Barack Obama was headed to dinner with his family, a U.S. official said that the service members were no longer in the custody of the Libyan government. A few hours earlier, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki had said U.S. officials had been in touch with Libyan government representatives to discuss the situation.
“We are still trying to ascertain the facts of the incident,” Psaki said in an evening statement. “These four military personnel were operating in an area near Sabratha as part of security preparedness efforts when they were taken into custody.”
Psaki added that the U.S. values its relationship “with the new Libya.”
“We have a strategic partnership based on shared interests and our strong support for Libya’s historic democratic transition,” she said.
While many details about the detention of the servicemen were unknown Friday, Libya has been grappling with heightened violence since a 2011 civil war in which longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi was ousted from power and killed.
Early this week, a suicide car bombing killed at least 13 people in Bersis, about 30 miles from Benghazi. There was also a fatal attack on an American schoolteacher this month in Benghazi, where U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed during attacks on the U.S. mission in September 2012. In October, Prime Minister Ali Zidan was abducted by gunmen in Tripoli and then freed hours later.
As armed groups have battled one another, as well as security forces, in Benghazi, a number of diplomatic missions in the city have closed. The fighting has created instability in the oil market as militias have seized ports and oil fields nearby to use as bargaining chips with Zidan’s government, which has lost control of broad swaths of the country.
Although U.S. officials released few details about the incident Friday night, Obama went about his normal routine while on vacation in Hawaii, spending much of the afternoon with his family at a beach at the Bellows Air Force Station on Oahu and later heading out to dinner in Waikiki.