Paul Wolfowitz argues that although he is not 100% certain the claims can be verified on all points that he believes the administration did all it reasonably could to defend the consulate in Benghazi.
From what I can determine from talking with someone who has spoken directly with key general officers and others involved in the US response to the Benghazi attacks, it would appear that – contrary to Panetta’s “basic principle” – the US did almost everything possible to protect our people once the attacks had started, though not in advance:
The Consulate was overrun in a matter of minutes, before any help was possible.A team that appears to have been CIA personnel deployed quickly (and bravely) from the Annex to the Consulate and rescued everyone they found alive there. (It’s not clear whether Ambassador Stevens had already been taken by Libyans to the hospital or whether they simply failed to find him.)
A mainly CIA response force deployed quickly from Tripoli to reinforce the Annex and facilitate its successful evacuation.
Decision makers in Washington appear to have been leaning forward, as they should have been. The military’s most capable rescue force, based on the East Coast, was deployed immediately (something that is very rarely done), but – given the distances involved – arrived at Sigonella only after the crisis was over.
Also, the European command (EUCOM) deployed its number one counter terrorism force, which was training in central Europe, as quickly as possible, but it arrived in Sigonella after the evacuation of the Annex was complete.
Other special forces deployed to Sigonella but arrived on the 12th after it was too late to make a difference in Benghazi.
There was no AC-130 gunship in the region.
The only drone available in Libya was an unarmed surveillance drone which was quickly moved from Darna to Benghazi, but the field of view of these drones is limited and, in any case, this one was not armed.
The only other assets immediately available were F-16 fighter jets based at Aviano, Italy. These aircraft might have reached Benghazi while the fight at the Annex was still going on, but they would have had difficulty pinpointing hostile mortar positions or distinguishing between friendly and hostile militias in the midst of a confused firefight in a densely populated residential area where there would have been a high likelihood of civilian casualties. While two more Americans were tragically killed by a mortar strike on the Annex, it’s not clear that deploying F-16’s would have prevented that. In any case, the decision not to do so was made by the tactical commander, General Ham, as it should have been.
He argues the administration’s difficulties arose from the lack of preparation before the attack and the misleading statements it made in the aftermath of the incident. But he believes that in the time window when events were unfolding the US had few if any options.
The idea of using fighters buzz the consulate to provide psychological aid was mentioned by Bing West, another individual with close ties to the military and sources within it. Writing nearly two weeks ago, West said:
Our diplomats fought for seven hours without any aid from outside the country. Four Americans died while the Obama national-security team and our military passively watched and listened. The administration is being criticized for ignoring security needs before the attack and for falsely attributing the assault to a mob. But the most severe failure has gone unnoticed: namely, a failure to aid the living.
Wolfowitz basically conveys that although he has reservations, he thinks that no material aid of consequence was withheld in Benghazi. Former Speaker New Gingrich — another person with sources — claims that there may be documents establishing the contrary case.
“There is a rumor — I want to be clear, it’s a rumor — that at least two networks have emails from the National Security Adviser’s office telling a counterterrorism group to stand down,” Gingrich said. “But they were a group in real-time trying to mobilize marines and C-130s and the fighter aircraft, and they were told explicitly by the White House stand down and do nothing. This is not a terrorist action. If that is true, and I’ve been told this by a fairly reliable U.S. senator, if that is true and comes out, I think it raises enormous questions about the president’s role, and Tom Donilon, the National Security Adviser’s role, the Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who has taken it on his own shoulders, that he said don’t go. And that is, I think, very dubious, given that the president said he had instructions they are supposed to do everything they could to secure American personnel.”
Both Wolfowitz and Gingrich cite information that others have told them. And since the information does not agree on the key points this means that the publicly known facts surrounding the incident are still very much in doubt. They are probably going to remain that way until after Election Day.
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