What's Happened in Libya Since the Strongman Fell

Sunday, July 27, 2014
The U.S. quietly evacuated its embassy in Tripoli, Libya, today, taking all State Department employees to Tunisia under military escort during a dawn evacuation.

State department officials said in a statement that the evacuation does not mean they have closed the embassy and that they are "currently exploring options for a permanent return."

The news was not unexpected after conflict between rival militias in Tripoli ratcheted up in recent weeks. To understand what led to the evacuation we've put together a refresher on what is happening in Libya.

1.Why did the U.S. evacuate its embassy?

The country is experiencing some of the worst violence since the fall of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. In recent weeks rival militias have started to fight for control of the international airport in Tripoli.

On Monday, Libya's Health Ministry said clashes between the militias at the Tripoli airport killed 47 people in 24 hours.

The conflict became more dangerous after state department officials confirmed that rebels had access to military grade weapons including "antiaircraft weapons that may be used against civilian aviation."

One other possible reason for a quick evacuation is the memory of the 2012 attack on a U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, in which four Americans, including then-ambassador Chris Stevens, were killed.

The evacuation of American diplomats from the Libyan embassy is the second time in three years the embassy has been shut down.

Days before the evacuation, Deborah Jones, the American ambassador to Libya, tweeted that that she could hear the shelling.

Heavy shelling and other exchanges in our #AbuSalim neighborhood this morning. Alhamdullilah all safe.

- Safira Deborah (@SafiraDeborah) July 20, 20142.Who is fighting?

After the fall of Gadhafi, militias sprang up across the country -- many of them former anti-Gadhafi fighters. Although they had joined together to bring down the dictator, after Gadhafi's death they started jockeying for power over the country.

According to The Associated Press, the fighting over the airport is between a powerful militia located in the western city of Zintan and Islamist-led militias, including some fighters from Misrata, which is east of Tripoli.

After weeks of intense fighting in and near the capital, the Libyan government made a public plea for the two militarized factions to sit down for talks and tried to broker a ceasefire, according to Reuters.

"We call the people of Zintan and Misrata to urgent talks with the government to resolve this crisis and work out an initiative to settle this at once," Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni's office said, according to Reuters News Service.

See More About the Evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Libya

'Free-Wheeling' Militias Lead to Embassy Evacuation

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3.What Has Happened at the Tripoli Airport?

The fight for the Tripoli International Airport is at the center of the battle in Libya's capital city. The fighting started on July 13 and has made the airport impossible to use, according to the state department.

The fighting began after Islamist-led militias from Misrata staged a surprise attack to claim the airport from militias from Zintan, according to the AP.

On Monday a $113 million passenger jet for Libya's state-owned airlines was destroyed in the fighting.

Though the fighting has raged for 10 days, neither side is reported to have won or ended the battle.

4.Libya's Interim Government

The U.S. State Department said the stability of Libya's current interim government is uncertain. Elections were held earlier this year, but "political jockeying continues over where and when to seat the parliament," said the state department.

According to the AP, rival militias forced a week-long closure of gas stations and government offices. In May fighting broke out between rival factions near Benghazi.

The Libyan Council of Representatives is scheduled to convene on Aug. 4.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.
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