Non-Essential U.S. Embassy Staff in Pakistan Ordered Home
The State Department on Friday ordered all but essential employees at the U.S. Embassy and three consulates in Pakistan to return home, a move that signaled serious concern with security in the country.
The order was issued five days after an embassy employee and her 17-year-old daughter were killed along with three others in a grenade attack on a Christian church in the diplomatic quarter of Islamabad, the Pakistani capital.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, traveling with President Bush in Monterrey, Mexico, telephoned Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on Friday to inform him of the decision, State Department spokesman Philip T. Reeker said.
Powell told Musharraf that the order didn’t reflect a lack of confidence in his government, its security force or Pakistan’s commitment to protecting Americans, Reeker said.
Nevertheless, the move underscores mounting worries that Americans face a likelihood of future attacks in a country that has emerged as a critical U.S. ally in the region but remains a political tinderbox.
Since Sunday’s attack, Reeker said, the department has been reviewing security surrounding its diplomatic facilities in Pakistan as well as “a continuous flow of threat information through intelligence channels.”
“The threats are such, the environment is such, that we can better carry out our job by going to this status,” Reeker said. Recent State Department advisories had already warned U.S. travelers to avoid Pakistan.
The department’s facilities in Pakistan include the embassy in Islamabad and consulates in Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar. All four posts will remain open and continue to serve travelers in the region, Reeker said. But children and other dependents of State Department employees, as well as workers whose jobs aren’t critical, will be required to leave.
Reeker declined to say how many department employees are in Pakistan or how many people will be affected by the evacuation.
The new order comes amid signs of mounting instability in Pakistan. U.S. officials said last week that large numbers of Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters had fled into Pakistan from Afghanistan and might be trying to regroup there to plot strikes on American targets and individuals.
“If you stood atop the Khyber Pass and looked due south . . . you could probably see most of the Taliban,” said Rep. Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
The Pentagon indicated last week that it might have to launch military operations inside Pakistan to hunt down members of the Al Qaeda terrorist network. And CIA Director George J. Tenet warned on Capitol Hill that Musharraf continues to confront factions violently opposed to Pakistan’s alliance with the United States in the war on terrorism.
In the March 17 strike, an unidentified attacker rushed into the Protestant International Church and hurled at least three grenades into the congregation. The church was just a quarter of a mile from the U.S. Embassy, and among the dead were embassy personnel officer Barbara Green and her daughter, Kristen Wormsley.
Green’s husband, Milton, who worked in the embassy’s information management office, was hospitalized. Their son, Zack, a fifth-grader, was treated for minor injuries. They have since returned to the United States.
One of those killed in the March 17 attack is believed to have been the bomber, although his remains were obliterated and authorities were still trying to determine his identity.
Reeker said the evacuation would be “orderly” and likely take some time to complete.
“This isn’t the roof of the embassy in Saigon,” he said, referring to the dramatic scene near the end of the Vietnam War when U.S. diplomats were airlifted out of South Vietnam.
Wire services contributed to this report.