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POLITICS: PennAve

Congressional aides to visit at-risk embassies despite closings

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Congress,House of Representatives,State,Republican Party,Benghazi,PennAve,Susan Crabtree,Terrorism

An August trip for key House Republican staffers to visit embassies most at risk for terrorist attacks is still taking place despite the State Department’s mass closing of embassies in Muslim countries last week.

A spokesman for the Foreign Affairs Committee confirmed that the travel will go forward but declined to offer any details about it.

The House Foreign Relations Committee had planned the travel well before the early August threat from al Qaeda convinced U.S. officials to shutter 22 diplomatic facilities and reopen all but two in Yemen and Pakistan.

House Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., told the Washington Examiner before the congressional recess the trip would give his staff get a first-hand look at embassy vulnerabilities and steps taken to fortify them in the wake of the last year’s attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.

Because of the sensitive nature of the trips in the heightened threat environment, Royce would not say which embassies were on the itinerary or exactly when the travel would occur during August. The State Department issued a travel warning for the entire month, warning Americans not to visit dangerous areas in the Middle East, Northern Africa and Central Asia, and to be especially watchful of suspicious activity while traveling domestically and abroad.

The same day the State Department announced the embassy closings, Royce’s committee approved legislation that would provide $4.8 billion for embassy security, including the construction of new facilities and upgrades like blast-resistant doors and windows to existing buildings.

The legislation also calls for an increased Marines presence at embassies and enhanced planning for the rapid deployment of military personnel to a crisis area. The hiring of local security guards would still be allowed, but officials would be encouraged to hire those who provide the “best value” and not just the cheapest local help available.

“Some of the steps would go a long way in strengthening the embassies most at risk,” Royce said.

The U.S. had hired a local Libya militia to help guard the consulate in Benghazi. Attackers killed one of the members of the militia serving as a lookout at the start of the assault, while other members of the militia ran away during the 40-minute siege of the consulate, leaving only a small contingent of diplomatic security to try to save Stevens and protect the integrity of the consulate.

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