Four US military personnel investigating potential evacuation routes in Libya were taken into custody at a checkpoint and then detained briefly by the Libyan government before being released, US officials said Friday night.
These four military personnel were operating in an area near Sabratha as part of security preparedness efforts when they were taken into custody, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.
No one was injured. The military personnel were taken to the US Embassy after their release, a Defense Department official said. The official was not authorized to discuss the incident by name and requested anonymity.
The four were supporting US Marine security forces protecting the American Embassy, the official said. They were likely US special operations forces, which have been deployed to Libya.
An altercation apparently took place at the checkpoint, the Defense Department official said. Reports of gunfire could not be confirmed.
After they were detained at the checkpoint, the Americans were transferred to the Ministry of the Interior and held for a few hours, the official said.
“We value our relationship with the new Libya,” Psaki said. “We have a strategic partnership based on shared interests and our strong support for Libya’s historic democratic transition.”
The New York Times reported that the four may have been reviewing possible evacuation routes in Tripoli for American diplomats when they were detained by the Libyan Interior Ministry.
Pictures posted to social media on Friday night showed what it claimed were the men’s US passports.
Psaki said Friday night that the United States was in touch with Libyan officials to ensure the Americans’ release.
The US Embassy in Tripoli includes a security detail. The embassy’s personnel are restricted in their movements in Libya.