Benghazi: So many questions remain
By USA Today February 8, 2013 6:50 am
On the night the U.S. Consulate was attacked in Libya, the U.S. military had a rapid reaction force of Marines in Spain, two Navy destroyers off the Libyan coast, and U.S. fighter jets parked on the nearby Mediterranean island of Crete.
But Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey on Thursday told the Senate Armed Services Committee that none of those forces could have stopped the attack. The rapid reaction force would have taken at least 12 hours to get to the scene, they said.
When asked who was in charge of ordering up assistance, Panetta said no one in particular.
“It’s not that simple,” he said.
Asked again, he replied: “We all were.”
The testimony by Pentagon leaders answered some questions about the Sept. 11 attack, but not all. One answer — concerning President Obama’s role during the attack — seems certain to generate controversy.
Panetta testified Thursday that he was up all night monitoring the situation and never heard from Obama, nor the president from him.
Panetta said he and Dempsey briefed Obama in the White House for 15-20 minutes shortly after the attack began and discussed unrest outside the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.
“Do whatever you have to do to protect our people out there,” Panetta said he was told by Obama.
Panetta and Dempsey also said they did not confer directly with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was in charge of the embassy and responsible for the staff’s safety. They said they participated in at least one meeting that included people from the White House and State Department.
“Obviously, the president didn’t view this as a priority that required him to stay in touch with his secdef (secretary of Defense) or the chairman of his joint chiefs,” said Danielle Pletka, vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. “You’d think that an act of terrorism would have been something he’d want to be engaged in.”
Dempsey’s rationale for why no military assets could arrive in Benghazi in time “seems not credible,” she said. “The reality is they weren’t taking this seriously enough.”
People armed with rifles and rocket-propelled grenades attacked the consulate in Benghazi and a safe house nearby. Video was provided in real time by a drone dispatched to the scene. U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and State Department information management officer Sean Smith died in a fire at the consulate.
During a second attack at the safe house, mortar fire killed two former Navy SEALs, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, and severely injured a diplomatic security worker.
According to a State Department report and others, diplomatic security personnel made repeated requests for air support, and requests for unmanned drones to suppress the attackers, but none arrived.
In the weeks after the attack, U.S. officials said Panetta moved assets all over the region as a response.
He ordered a Marine Fleet Anti-terrorism Support Team platoon from Spain to respond. It arrived 23 hours after the attack began.
Also, a special operations team from Central Europe was moved to Sigonella Air Base in Sicily and two Navy destroyers in the Mediterranean were sent to the Libyan coast. Neither appeared to have been used.
Dempsey said AC-130 gunships, which have been used so effectively in Iraq and Afghanistan to suppress enemy fighters on the ground, weren’t used because the nearest ones were more than 1,000 miles away and there were no armaments nor fuel facilities to support them.
F-16 fighter jets were in Aviano Air Base, Italy. Some critics say they could have been sent to fly in low and scatter attackers. Panetta said “it was clear it would take up to 20 hours to get them there.”
Dempsey added: “They were the wrong tool for the job.”
“The attack ended before we could get anyone off the ground,” Panetta said. Even if they had scrambled aircraft, officials didn’t have good enough information on who to hit, Panetta said.
“We have taken several steps since this happened,” he added. “Some of these fast teams did not have airlift. They now have airlift.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., asked if any U.S. military assets were ever deployed. It was several hours from when the first attack began until the final one concluded.
“No,” Panetta said “Because the attack ended before we could get anyone off the ground.”
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., said there was plenty of intelligence to suggest that Americans were in grave danger from well-armed attackers. Not only was there live video, but the Americans conveyed the urgency of their plight to their superiors in Libya and Washington.
Dempsey told CNN that it was impractical for the military to be “every place” in the world.
“It wasn’t a seven-hour battle,” he said. “It was two 20-minute battles separated by about six hours.”
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- Panetta says there was no way to respond to Benghazi attack (news.yahoo.com)
- Panetta: Logistics prevented help for Benghazi victims (wnd.com)
- Panetta defends military response in Libya attack (modbee.com)
- Panetta on Benghazi: We did “everything we could” (cbsnews.com)
- Obama Officials: No Aid Sent to Americans During 8-Hour Terrorist Attack at Benghazi (ijreview.com)
- Panetta, Dempsey defend U.S. response to Benghazi attack (wtvr.com)
- Dempsey: State Department never asked us to respond to Benghazi (hotair.com)
- Panetta on Benghazi: U.S. Military ‘Not a 911 Service’ (pjmedia.com)