Almost a Decade after Benghazi, the US Quietly Re-engages with Libya


The United States is returning to Libya, with President Biden’s administration launching new diplomatic efforts to get the country out of a violent spiral and reopen the American Embassy in Tripoli, seven years after its closure, according to a report published on Thursday by NBC News.

In 2014, the Obama administration deployed a team there to work out the logistics of reopening the Embassy, two sources told NBC. These steps contrast with the hands-off approach of the Trump administration. It chose not to pressure governments – including US allies – that are supporting their proxies in the Libyan civil war, in blatant violation of the UN arms embargo.

Turkey and other many countries have funnelled weapons, money, and tens of thousands of mercenaries to support their allies in the conflict. According to the United Nations, this fueled terrorism in the region, and worsened the migration crisis.

A report released in March by a group of UN experts described a free-for-all within the country, as foreign powers flew in drones, transport planes, surface-to-air missiles, artillery and armoured vehicles, as well as mercenaries from Chad, Sudan, and Syria.

However, the reopening of the US Embassy carries political risks for the Biden administration. US officials are aware of the partisan feud that erupted in Washington after the attack on the US diplomatic mission in Benghazi in 2012, in which US Ambassador Chris Stevens died. House Republicans have launched six inquiries into the Obama administration’s handling of the episode.

Asked about the future of the embassy in Tripoli, the State Department declined to comment on when the mission might reopen.

“Our intention is to start resuming operations in Libya as soon as the security situation permits, and we have the necessary security measures in place,” a State Department spokesperson said. “The process for this to happen, however, involves careful logistics and security planning, as well as interagency coordination to meet security and legal requirements.”

The European Union reopened its mission in Libya last week, and other governments have relaunched their diplomatic missions since March. All in support of a transitional government that was established in March, and after a ceasefire was brokered by the UN in October.

Libya’s envoy to the United States, said the government had urged the Biden administration to move forward with plans to reopen the embassy, saying it would send an important symbolic message. “We have asked the US government to speed up the process of reopening the embassy in Tripoli,” they said.

The embassy was closed in 2014 when officials ruled that fighting in Tripoli made operations in the capital dangerous. The embassy moved to neighbouring Tunisia.

After the attack on Benghazi and the closure of the embassy, the Obama administration discouraged visits by senior US officials to Libya. The decision was “we’re not going to take the risk – period,” said a senior Obama administration official who worked on regional diplomacy.

“An embassy helps keep the government at home informed and performs a range of practical functions, including consular services, assisting US companies interested in investing, and forging cooperation with local military and intelligence services. Operating without an embassy puts a government at a disadvantage and deprives it of a full picture of the situation on the ground,” the former US official said.

“It’s embarrassing that we’re not here,” the official said. “It’s bad for US foreign policy. It’s bad for US national security. It’s bad for the host country. It’s bad for the region.”

Western governments believe the ceasefire, transitional government, and elections slated for December offer glimmers of hope for a country that has been on a downward spiral since the fall of leader Muammer Gaddafi in 2011.

After a NATO-backed uprising that toppled Gaddafi 10 years ago, Libya became divided between a government