The U.S. State Department issued a travel advisory on Tuesday warning all Americans in Libya to “depart immediately” amid growing unrest in the war-torn nation.
“Due to security concerns, the Department of State has limited staffing at Embassy Tripoli and is only able to offer very limited emergency services to US citizens in Libya,” the advisory warned.
It continued: “Because of the presumption that foreigners, especially US citizens, in Libya may be associated with the US government or US NGOs, travelers should be aware that they may be targeted for kidnapping, violent attacks, or death. US citizens currently in Libya should exercise extreme caution and depart immediately.”
The travel advisory came on the same day the US announced it was dispatching a warship off the coast of Libya. The amphibious assault ship is carrying 1,000 Marines to assist in the event that the US Embassy in Tripoli is ordered to evacuate.
The USS Bataan is expected to arrive in the area “in a matter of days,” a Pentagon official told AFP.
The State Department warning comes amid a worsening security situation in the North African nation of 6.1 million inhabitants. Earlier this month, armed men stormed the Libyan parliament in Tripoli. The escalating violence marks the bloodiest period in the nation since the 2011 revolution and NATO intervention that culminated in the killing of longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
While Libya has been a dangerous place for Americans for three years, as demonstrated by the deadly September 11, 2012 terrorist attack on US diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, the recent security situation there has raised deep concern in Washington. US officials are especially alarmed by a warning from the militant Islamist group Ansar al-Sharia, which on Tuesday told the United States not to interfere in Libyan affairs.
Ansar al-Sharia is considered a terrorist group by the United States, which accused the group of orchestrating the 2012 Benghazi attacks. Mohamed Zahawi, leader of the Benghazi branch of Ansar al-Sharia, has accused the United States of supporting rogue former general Khalifa Haftar, who has dedicated himself to ridding Libya of Islamist militancy.
“We remind America, if they intervene, of their defeats in Afganistan, Iraq and Somalia, because they would face in Libya something much worse,” Zahawi said in a statement. “It was America who urged Haftar to turn the country towards war and bloodshed.”