WASHINGTON - Marines and other U.S. forces in Europe are on a heightened state of alert in response to a deteriorating security situation in the Libyan capital of Tripoli, two U.S. officials said Friday.
The alert order applies to a U.S. special operations team based in Stuttgart, Germany, as well as a Marine group of air and ground forces based in Moron, Spain, according to the officials, who were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The forces alerted in Europe are under U.S. Africa Command, which acquired the special operations team in the fall. The command did not have a similar team - or the Marines in Spain - available last September for possible use in response to the deadly attack on the US diplomatic facilities in the Libyan city of Benghazi.
The U.S. has a contingent of dozens of Marines at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli.
The officials said there is no plan to use any of the forces under current circumstances, but a portion of the approximately 500 Marines in Spain have been notified they might be repositioned for a quicker potential response to trouble in Tripoli.
One of the missions for which Marines train is the emergency evacuation of U.S. embassy compounds.
No extra U.S. naval or air forces are being moved into the region in response to the unrest in Libya, the official said.
Hundreds of Libyan activists protested Friday in Tripoli, Benghazi and Tobrouk. They denounced the use of force by the country's unruly militias.
The protesters accuse the Muslim Brotherhood of trying to seize power by pushing through a contentious law that would prevent officials who had served under former dictator Moammar Gadhafi from working in government.
Britain's Foreign Office said it temporarily withdrew some staff from its embassy in Tripoli in light of recent political unrest. Heavily armed militias have surrounded government buildings in Tripoli over the past month, blocking access to ministries to push the parliament to pass the Brotherhood-supported law.
On Thursday the State Department said it was advising U.S. citizens against all but essential travel to Tripoli and all travel to Benghazi and other locations in Libya. It cited "ongoing instability and violence" and said the State Department's ability to provide consular services to U.S. citizens there was "extremely limited."
"The security situation in Libya remains unpredictable," the State Department travel warning said. "Sporadic episodes of civil unrest have occurred throughout the country."