WASHINGTON — Alarmed by developments in Libya, the United States this week moved 200 troops to a base in Sicily so that they could respond more quickly if the United States needs to evacuate its embassy in Tripoli, McClatchy Newspapers reported Friday, citing two unnamed administration officials.
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 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, Christopher Stevens.
The central government's lack of control over its military was evident Friday, when fierce fighting gripped Benghazi after a key commander in the 2011 uprising, Gen. Khalifa Hifter, commandeered troops and air power to attack Islamist militias. The attack came without government approval, the top military official said. The Associated Press reported 24 deaths.