WASHINGTON: The United States has chosen a veteran diplomat who retired more than a decade ago to serve as its senior envoy in Libya following the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens in a Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi, the State Department said Thursday.
Laurence Pope, a former U.S. ambassador to Chad and senior State Department counter-terrorism official, has arrived in Tripoli to serve as “charge d’affairs,” the title given to a diplomat who represents a country in the absence of an ambassador, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement.
“Mr. Pope’s selection as charge d’affairs emphasizes the commitment of the United States to the relationship between our two countries and to the people of Libya as they move forward in their transition to a democratic government,” Nuland said.
Pope’s 31-year career as a foreign service officer, which ended with his retirement in 2000, included stints as political adviser to the commander of the U.S. military’s Central Command, which covers much of the Middle East, and as the State Department’s director for Northern Gulf Affairs. He speaks Arabic and French.
“We will continue to assist as Libya builds democratic institutions and broad respect for the rule of law – the goals that Ambassador Stevens worked hard to achieve,” Nuland said.
Stevens and three other Americans were killed during what the United States has called a “terrorist” attack on the American mission in Benghazi on Sept. 11.
The assault forced the evacuation of U.S. personnel from Benghazi, the eastern city that was the hub for the Libyan rebel movement that, with the assistance of NATO-led airstrikes, toppled former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi last year.
The incident has triggered a debate in Washington over whether the ambassador, and the U.S. mission in Benghazi more broadly, were given sufficient protection.
At a partisan and at times rancorous congressional hearing Wednesday on events leading to the death of Stevens, security officers described uphill bureaucratic battles for resources to protect U.S. personnel and facilities.
Two officials testified that requests for extra support for U.S. posts in Tripoli and Benghazi had been refused, and the regional security officer said he was frustrated by a “total absence of planning” for future security.
“It was abundantly clear: We were not going to get resources until the aftermath of an incident,” regional security officer Eric Nordstrom told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing, which lasted more than four hours.
Nordstrom said he sought to bolster security by asking for 12 more agents, but was told by a State Department regional director that he was asking for the “sun, moon and the stars.”
In response, Nordstrom said the most frustrating part of his assignment was not the unrest gripping Libya.
“It’s not the hardships, it’s not the gunfire, it’s not the threats. It’s dealing and fighting against the people, programs and personnel who are supposed to be supporting me.
“And I added it (sic) by saying, for me, the Taliban is on the inside of the building,” he said.
Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, who was in charge of a 16-strong site security team based in Tripoli from mid-February until it was withdrawn in mid-August, agreed that “we were fighting a losing battle. We were not even allowed to keep what we had.”
U.S. President Barack Obama pledged to “fix” any security flaws that needed to be fixed, adding in an interview with ABC television that his administration had put out information on the Benghazi attack as it became available.