US Rep. Stephen Lynch, traveling with a delegation of Congressional colleagues, visited Libya for the first time earlier this month and reviewed embassy security in the wake of the death of a US ambassador in Benghazi in September 2012.
Lynch, a South Boston Democrat and a senior member of the House Subcommittee on National Security, said the situation has “much improved.” He traveled with Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican who chairs the subcommittee, Rep. Peter Welch, a Vermont Democrat, and Rep. Cynthia Lummis, a Wyoming Republican.
The group met with Libyan Deputy Prime Minister Sadiq Abdulkarim Abdulrahman and US Ambassador to Libya Deborah Jones, who replaced the late Christopher Stevens, who was killed on Sept. 11, 2012, during an insurgents’ attack on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi. Sean Smith, a State Department officer, and former Navy Seals Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods were also killed in the attack.
The group visited the US embassy compound in Tripoli but they were unable to head into Benghazi. The facility in Tripoli has seen improvements since the Benghazi attacks, Lynch said, referring to the construction of new walls and the introduction of a rapid response Marine Corps team with armored vehicle. Surveillance cameras also provide more protection, he added.
“We wanted to find out if that [Benghazi] station was viable, we wanted to find out if the new government is able to operate in the Benghazi area – they’re centered in Tripoli and large swaths of Libya are controlled by the militias,” Lynch said.
The congressman said part of the reason for the delegation’s trip, known in Washington parlance as a “codel,” was to take the temperature of the area and see how the transition to democracy is working. “I think the jury’s still out. I think they’ve got a lot of challenges there in terms of rule of law,” Lynch said. “I think the government is still relying in a major way on these militias and they’re sort of autonomous, they’re not part of the government. But right now the Libyan government is relying on some security functions. In addition, just the economy there in Libya: Their oil production is way down, and I think that some of the oil fields in the eastern section near Benghazi and elsewhere are not up and running, so I think they’re suffering from oil production capacity.”
The group also met with Egypt’s prime minister and visited the Sinai Peninsula, an area that abuts Israel. The US is part of a large coalition of countries, including Italy, Fiji, and Colombia, that makes up the Multinational Force and Observers. American soldiers serving in the Sinai include people from Dorchester, Newton, and Randolph, according to Lynch’s office. The area has seen a surge in violence, with 25 Egyptian police officials killed in an attack this past in August.
Egypt, still churning after the military removed Islamist President Mohammed Morsi earlier this year, is experiencing “major problems,” Lynch said. “I think there’s ways for the United States and our international partners to help in terms of cooperating with the Egyptian government strengthening rule of law,” Lynch added in speaking to the Reporter after returning from the trip. But, he said, the initiative has to come from the country itself and not from countries like the United States.
Congress, currently on Thanksgiving break, will return in December for several weeks. Capitol Hill has been consumed by the controversy over Healthcare.gov, the federal health insurance exchange site plagued by technical problems. President Obama, whose White House has spent weeks in a defensive crouch over the website’s problems, has said it should be working for most applicants by the end of the month. “This is supposed to be the easy part,” Lynch said. “It does worry me that we’re having this much trouble getting people up on the system.”