Could the Military Have Done More to Save Our Diplomats?
The question of why, during a 7 hour battle when Americans were fighting for their lives in Benghazi, no help from nearby military assets was forthcoming has not been answered to anyone's satisfaction.
Now it turns out that the military dispatched drones whose cameras captured the last desperate hours of the struggle.
The United States had an unmanned Predator drone over its consulate in Benghazi during the attack that slaughtered four Americans — which should have led to a quicker military response, it was revealed yesterday.
“They stood, and they watched, and our people died,” former CIA commander Gary Berntsen told CBS News.
The network reported that the drone and other reconnaissance aircraft observed the final hours of the hours-long siege on Sept. 11 — obtaining information that should have spurred swift action.
But as Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three colleagues were killed by terrorists armed with AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, Defense Department officials were too slow to send in the troops, Berntsen said.
“They made zero adjustments in this. You find a way to make this happen,” he fumed.
“There isn’t a plan for every single engagement. Sometimes you have to be able to make adjustments.”
The Pentagon said it moved a team of special operators from Central Europe to Sigonella, Italy — about an hour flight from Libya — but gave no other details.
Fighter jets and Specter AC-130 gunships — which could have been used to help disperse the bloodthirsty mob — were also stationed at three nearby bases, sources told the network.
CBS News also talked to Berntsen and he was even more pointed in his criticism:
Retired CIA officer Gary Berntsen believes help could have come much sooner. He commanded CIA counter-terrorism missions targeting Osama bin Laden and led the team that responded after bombings of the U.S. Embassy in East Africa.
"You find a way to make this happen," Berntsen says. "There isn't a plan for every single engagement. Sometimes you have to be able to make adjustments. They made zero adjustments in this. They stood and they watched and our people died."
The Pentagon says it did move a team of special operators from central Europe to the large Naval Air Station in Sigonella, Italy, but gave no other details. Sigonella is just an hour's flight from Libya. Other nearby bases include Aviano and Souda Bay. Military sources tell CBS News that resources at the three bases include fighter jets and Specter AC-130 gunships, which the sources say can be extremely effective in flying in and buzzing a crowd to disperse it.
Rick Nelson, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former Navy pilot who worked in counter-terrorism, says such missions can be very risky. "A lot can go well, right, as we saw with the bin Laden raid. It was a very successful event," he says. "But also, when there are high risk activities like this. a lot can go wrong, as we saw with the Iranian hostage rescue decades ago."
Add to the controversy the fact that the last two Americans didn't die until more than six hours into the attack, and the question of U.S. military help becomes very important.
No doubt sending in troops without the Libyan government's permission would have been awkward:
Sending the military into another country can be a sensitive and delicate decision. CBS News has been told Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did seek clearances from Libya to fly in their airspace, but the administration won't say anything further about what was said or decided on that front.
Has anyone bothered to ask what our president was doing for 7 hours while Americans were under attack? What decisions did he make? Was he even kept in the loop? If he wasn't, why was the Commander in Chief kept in the dark about a savage attack being carried out against our diplomats?
If the military is having problems getting clearance from a host government to assist, one would think a call from President Obama to the head of state of that country should have been in order. Why didn't he do it?
The more that is revealed about what happened in Benghazi, the worse the president looks. As a metaphor for the last 4 years, the attack on our diplomats and the subsequent confusion, incompetence, and incomprehensible paralysis of the Obama administration makes the case against his re-election.
Yes, it's in the middle of a political campaign and yes, it's inevitable that the entire matter would become a political football.