“Two U.S. officials tell Eli Lake that the State Department never requested military backup the night of the attack.”
Okay. But it’s not like the President or the Defense Secretary weren’t aware of what was happening. Why didn’t they request military backup? Worse still, did they actually scuttle plans for a military response and rescue mission, as has been rumored? Because if this report is accurate, assets were being moved into place and contingencies planned for. Meaning that at some point, the calculation was made not to chance a military response.
And that’s unconscionable — particularly if the calculus for making a decision was a political one.
On the night of the 9/11 anniversary assault at the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, the Americans defending the compound and a nearby CIA annex were severely outmanned. Nonetheless, the State Department never requested military backup that evening, two senior U.S. officials familiar with the details of military planning tell The Daily Beast.
In its seventh week, discussion about what happened in Benghazi has begun to focus on why military teams in the region did not respond to the assault on the U.S. mission and the nearby CIA annex. The only security backup that did arrive that evening were former special-operations soldiers under the command of the CIA—one from the nearby annex and another Quick Reaction Force from Tripoli. On Friday, Fox News reported that requests from CIA officers for air support on the evening of the attacks were rejected. (The Daily Beast was not able to confirm that those requests were made, though no U.S. official contacted for this story directly refuted the claim either.)
It’s unlikely any outside military team could have arrived in Benghazi quickly enough to save Ambassador Chris Stevens or his colleague Sean Smith, both of whom died from smoke inhalation after a band of more than 100 men overran the U.S. mission at around 9:30 p.m. that evening and set the buildings inside ablaze.
But military backup may have made a difference at around five the following morning, when a second wave of attackers assaulted the CIA annex where embassy personnel had taken refuge. It was during this second wave of attacks that two ex-SEALs working for the CIA’s security teams—Glenn Doherty and Tyrone Woods—were killed in a mortar strike.
Normally it would be the job of the U.S. ambassador on location to request a military response. But Stevens likely died in the first two hours of the attack. The responsibility for requesting military backup would then have fallen to the deputy chief of mission at Benghazi or officials at the State Department in Washington.
“The State Department is responsible for assessing security at its diplomatic installations and for requesting support from other government agencies if they need it,” a senior U.S. Defense official said. “There was no request from the Department of State to intervene militarily on the night of the attack.”
The president, however, would have the final say as to whether or not to send in the military. By 11 p.m. Benghazi time, 90 minutes after the assault began on the U.S. mission, Obama met with the National Security Council to discuss the attack. NSC spokesman Tommy Vietor said the president “ordered Secretary Panetta and Chairman Dempsey to begin moving assets into the region to prepare for a range of contingencies” at that meeting.
According to the senior Defense Department official, those assets included a special operations team from central Europe to be staged at the Sigonella Naval Air Station in Italy and other small teams of Marines deployed at U.S. Naval bases known as FAST platoons. (These details were first reported by Fox News.) By the time the special operations team and the Marines were prepared to go forward with the rescue mission, however, the first wave of the attack was over.
Panetta said last week that he and the military’s leadership did not have enough “real-time information about what’s taking place” to send in reinforcement that evening. However, three U.S. Defense and intelligence officials confirm to The Daily Beast that a surveillance drone was at the scene of the attack while personnel were evacuated from the diplomatic compound to the CIA annex—though the drone was not present at the beginning of the attack.
The Pentagon did eventually play one role in the aftermath: when personnel from the U.S. mission and CIA annex were at the airport, the Defense Department transported them from Benghazi to Tripoli.
Representative Jason Chaffetz, the Republican chairman of a House oversight subcommittee investigating the Benghazi attacks, told The Daily Beast that General Carter Ham, the outgoing U.S. commander of Africa Command, “told me directly that he had no directive to engage in the fight in Benghazi.” Spokesmen from Africa Command declined to comment for this story.
We already know Clinton and State screwed the pooch by denying requests for increased security, even after they knew that the consulate could not withstand a coordinated attack. And now it seems that after the initial mistake, the follow-on mistakes were made by the President and the Defense Secretary.
No one left behind my ass.