The consulate itself was selected because it had several buildings in the compound, and because it could house more than two dozen staff and temporary duty officers. Reports indicate that the actual number of Americans on site was far less than that on the day of the attack. Even after the CIA officers from the safe house a mile away and the eight-man Tripoli-based QRF were included, the total number of Americans extracted was only 24-32.
There are unconfirmed rumors that the White House itself interceded to override State to keep this dangerously low footprint in Benghazi. To date this is just a rumor, and would still not absolve Clinton of her responsibilities to provide adequate protection for diplomatic staff.
Failing to secure the consulate during the initial attack
At roughly 9:40 p.m. local time — after a Turkish delegation left the compound and was apparently allowed thorough Ansar al-Sharia checkpoints with 150 or more armed militants milling around — the attack on the consulate compound began.
According to an earlier Fox News report, the consulate staff immediately called for support (which never came), and the CIA operators at a safe house a mile away were twice denied requests before disobeying orders. They conducted a consulate staff extraction on their own, without military support.
By the time the CIA team from the safe house arrived, Ambassador Stevens had been taken, diplomat Sean Smith was dead, and several other consulate staff were seriously wounded.
The timeline suggests that if the terror cell had begun cutting off roads at 8:00 p.m. with easily recognizable “technicals” — pickup trucks mounted with heavy machine guns — and if the consulate staff was aware of being isolated prior to an attack, then they would have had enough time to call for military air support and an extraction team. The consulate staff could have become aware of the pending attack from the Turkish delegation that must have gone through one of the checkpoints, or from their own surveillance.
In either event, a flight of fighter jets from Italy could have made it to Benghazi prior to the start of the initial attack if they had been scrambled immediately, and AC-130 or MC-130 gunships could have been on-station within two to three hours. Handled aggressively, there is the slim possibility that a show of force from American airpower could have dissuaded the terrorists from launching their attack. Once the attack had begun, however, these air assets could have broken the attacking force.
Of course, the indications are that these aircraft were not on scene during the initial assault that killed Sean Smith and Ambassador Stevens. Fighter aircraft never arrived, and there is considerable ambiguity on whether a gunship was dispatched. The only known air asset was a Predator drone, which the administration claims was unarmed.
General Ham at AFRICOM in Germany would have been the military leader in charge of launching a support mission, and he had considerable assets at his disposal — from the aforementioned drones, fighter-bombers, and gunships to highly trained quick-reaction forces, including a Delta Force team. In fact, such forces would have had standing orders to start preparing a rescue mission as soon as Ambassador Stevens and his staff warned they were under attack. None of these assets ever made it to Libya.
General Ham is no longer the AFRICOM commander and is said to have suddenly not just left his command, but retired from the military. Some military sources familiar with Ham said it would not have been in his nature to abandon Americans in danger and that he had in fact ignored a White House directive in an earlier, still-classified rescue where the administration had left Americans undefended.