WASHINGTON – Alarmed by developments in Libya, the United States has moved 200 troops to a base in Sicily so they could respond more quickly if the U.S. needs to evacuate its embassy in Tripoli, two administration officials have told McClatchy.
The troop move is the latest acknowledgment from the Obama administration that three years after a NATO bombing campaign helped topple the government of Moammar Gadhafi, conditions in the oil-producing country are deteriorating and security concerns that previously were confined to Benghazi and Libya’s east have spread to Tripoli, the capital, and the country’s west.
Of special concern is that Islamist militias could easily close Tripoli’s airport, complicating any effort to evacuate U.S. diplomats if the situation deteriorates further. Militias also are in position to seize control of Libya’s other airports, including the one in Benghazi, where militants in 2012 attacked U.S. diplomatic facilities, killing four Americans including the ambassador, Chris Stevens.
One senior diplomat in Tripoli said U.S. officials are living under severe security restrictions. “You have to have a new normal,” said the diplomat. “We’re built to hunker down.”