The United States on Saturday evacuated all its staff from its embassy in Libya due to the fierce fighting in the capital, AFP Press quoted U.S. officials as saying.
Although the embassy had already been operating on limited staffing, the remaining team drove overland to Tunisia to safety only hours after the Libyan government warned the country could be torn apart by clashes between rival militias for control of Tripoli airport.
Witnesses in the Libyan capital said they saw at least four convoys of diplomatic vehicles making their way on the airport road as warplanes provided air cover.
The U.S. move comes amid increasing violence between the Libyan army and Islamist militias.
Fresh clashes broke out Friday between rival Libyan militias battling for control of Tripoli airport, the target of 13 days of shelling that have disrupted air links to the outside world.
“Due to the ongoing violence resulting from clashes between Libyan militias in the immediate vicinity of the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, we have temporarily relocated all of our personnel out of Libya,” Deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statement.
"We are committed to supporting the Libyan people during this challenging time and are currently exploring options for a permanent return to Tripoli as soon as the security situation on the ground improves."
Harf added that in the meantime staff would operate from Washington and other posts in the region.
The State Department also issued an updated travel warning cautioning Americans against travelling to Libya and urging all those in the country to “depart immediately.”
“Regrettably, we had to take this step because the location of our embassy is in very close proximity to intense fighting and ongoing violence between armed Libyan factions,” Harf said.
She confirmed that the embassy staff had “travelled overland” and arrived in Tunisia early Saturday and were “traveling onward from there.”
“We are grateful to the government of Tunisia for its cooperation and support.”
Memories are still raw for many Americans of the 2012 militant attack on the US mission in eastern Benghazi when the ambassador Chris Stevens and three other American personnel were killed.