Dozens of U.S. Marines and at least seven military aircraft were involved in Saturday's embassy evacuation operation in Libya, Military Times has learned.
Embassy staff members were driven in vehicles from their compound in Tripoli to Tunisia, according to the Pentagon's top spokesman, Rear Adm. John Kirby. They were escorted by the embassy's Marine security guard detachment, which for the last several months has been reinforced by conventional infantry Marines assigned to Task Force Tripoli.
Military officials have not disclosed the precise number of Marines assigned to the embassy in Libya, but NBC News reported Saturday that 80 "heavily armed" Marines were among the 158 Americans who vacated the compound.
Personnel from the embassy were evacuated as security deteriorated in Tripoli, the capital. "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," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statement, according to USA Today.
Embassy staff and their Marine escorts left the capital around 5 a.m. The operation lasted five hours, ending without incident, officials said.
Overhead, three Air Force F-16 fighters and two Marine Corps MV-22 Ospreys kept watch on the convoy, said Tom Saunders, a spokesman for U.S. Africa Command in Germany. The aircraft were accompanied by an unspecified number of surveillance drones.
"We did provide [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] support," Saunders said, "but as a matter of policy we don't discuss ISR operations, to include the number of assets supporting a mission."
The F-16s, which flew out of Aviano Air Base in Italy, were supported by a KC-135 aerial refueling tanker from RAF Mildenhall in England, Saunders said.
A 24-man Marine quick reaction force and a two-person medical team were inside the Ospreys, Saunders said. They were supported by a KC-130 refueling tanker. All of those personnel are assigned to Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response based in Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy.
The crisis-response force and Task Force Tripoli are manned by members of 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, out of Camp Lejeune, N.C. They are scheduled to be replaced in the coming weeks by members of 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines, also out of Lejeune.
With reporting by staff writer Gina Harkins.