A House Armed Services subcommittee today released a report on the Defense Department’s response to the Benghazi attack that found U.S. readiness was “severely degraded” at the time — and the Pentagon is still having challenges responding to those weaknesses 18 months after the assault.
The Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations has reviewed thousands of pages of documents including classified emails and situation reports provided by the Defense Department. Committee members have participated in two open hearings and seven classified briefings.
Interviews used in compiling the report worked all the way up the chain of command and included forces on the ground at the time of the attack.
The committee summed up its investigation to date in six findings:
I. In assessing military posture in anticipation of the September 11 anniversary, White House officials failed to comprehend or ignored the dramatically deteriorating security situation in Libya and the growing threat to U.S. interests in the region. Official public statements seem to have exaggerated the extent and rigor of the security assessment conducted at the time.
II. U.S. personnel in Benghazi were woefully vulnerable in September 2012 because a.) the administration did not direct a change in military force posture, b.) there was no intelligence of a specific “imminent” threat in Libya, and c.) the Department of State, which has primary responsibility for diplomatic security, favored a reduction of Department of Defense security personnel in Libya before the attack.
III. Defense Department officials believed nearly from the outset of violence in Benghazi that it was a terrorist attack rather than a protest gone awry, and the President subsequently permitted the military to respond with minimal direction.
IV. The U.S. military’s response to the Benghazi attack was severely degraded because of the location and readiness posture of U.S. forces, and because of lack of clarity about how the terrorist action was unfolding. However, given the uncertainty about the prospective length and scope of the attack, military commanders did not take all possible steps to prepare for a more extended operation.
V. There was no “stand down” order issued to U.S. military personnel in Tripoli who sought to join the fight in Benghazi. However, because official reviews after the attack were not sufficiently comprehensive, there was confusion about the roles and responsibilities of these individuals.
VI. The Department of Defense is working to correct many weaknesses revealed by the Benghazi attack, but the global security situation is still deteriorating and military resources continue to decline.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey told the Senate Armed Services Committee in a September 2013 written statement that forces were positioned “in a way that was informed by and consistent with available threat estimates.”
“The majority members believe the White House’s pre-September 11 security review failed in that it did not result in direction to the Department of Defense to react to the deteriorating security environment in Libya,” the report states, stressing that even though Dempsey said no specific threat was received about Benghazi “the committee is necessarily focused on how the nation’s military responded to this unanticipated scenario.”
The first action that the Pentagon took that night was redirecting a drone that had been flying over the city of Darnah, an hour flight time away from Benghazi. That drone was determined to have provided “insufficient” data about what was happening on the ground.
Some members of Congress have been able to view video provided by the Predator drone that night.
“Secretary [Leon] Panetta (in consultation with General Ham, General Dempsey, and others) verbally authorized three specific actions. First, two Marine FAST platoons in Rota, Spain were ordered to prepare to deploy; one bound for Benghazi and one destined for Tripoli. Second, a special operations unit assigned to the European Command, known as a Commander’s In- Extremis Force (CIF), which was training in Croatia was ordered to move to a U.S. Naval Air Station in Sigonella, Italy and await further instructions. Third, a special operations unit in the United States was also dispatched to the region. These orders were issued approximately two to four hours after the initial attack on the SMC.”
However, “the Department of Defense had no armed drones or manned aircraft prepared for combat readily available and nearby on September 11.”
The report found that the Pentagon’s lessons from that night on better posture are being hampered by increased security risks.
“There are disturbing indications that the administration has yet to develop an adequate approach to address the dramatic events that are convulsing the greater Middle East. Majority members believe that in spite of the military’s efforts to incorporate lessons learned from the attack, growing violence and instability continue to endanger our diplomats and pose significant threats to U.S. security. Almost daily, news accounts provide overwhelming evidence that Al Qaeda and its affiliates and other terrorist groups still pose grave threats to the United States and its allies in the Mideast. These conditions also lay the groundwork for potentially even more dire future challenges… Unfortunately, it is within this ominous security environment that the President and Congress continue to under-resource the military.”
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said this morning on MSNBC that a lesson to be gleaned from the report is to not expect a 24/7 response “no matter how we cut back on their resources and their abilities.”
“So we don’t have tankers ready to refuel fighter jets. We don’t have Marines that have air-lift to get them immediately to any spot around the globe 7/24,” McKeon said. “We should learn a hard lesson from this. The commander in chief was basically AWOL in this situation.”