Questions for White House Over Benghazi Just Beginning
Incompetence. Abandonment. Treason.
It has been a sickening few days for those of us who have closely followed the revelations coming out about the Benghazi terror attack that killed not only Ambassador Chris Stevens and diplomat Sean Smith, but also CIA operators (and former SEALs) Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, who died undertaking a rescue mission -- unauthorized -- to save the rest of the consulate staff.
We've learned about the incredible heroism of a CIA force that repeatedly called for help for as it was being attacked. Disturbingly, we learned that this force had been told to "stand down" twice by their chain of command, and that they violated direct orders to conduct this rescue mission. Our consulate staff was left to die.
Let me say that again: our consulate staff was to be abandoned and left to die.
We've also heard claims about why Ambassador Stevens was in Benghazi to begin with: some sources suggest this was part of an Obama administration plot to arm Syrian rebels.
We should tackle each of these related issues separately.
For starters, we now know that not a single American life should have been lost. Trucks with with the Islamist cell's logo and with heavy machine guns mounted on them took up blocking positions around the consulate no later than 8:00 p.m., according to Libyan eyewitnesses. These so-called "technicals" did not let anyone in or out for one hour and 40 minutes, until the attack began at 9:40 p.m. local time.
In that time, air assets based in Italy, Sicily, and the Mediterranean Sea could have easily dispatched the forces preparing for an attack, using precision weapons to destroy these logo-identified blocking vehicles. There is every reason to believe that the timely launch of air assets would have destroyed the attacking force as they prepared for their assault, without the loss of a single American life. For reasons as yet unknown, these easily identifiable enemy assets massing for an attack on the U.S. consulate were met with indifference by U.S. forces.
Our CIA assets, which seem to have been composed of former SEALs and other special operations personnel, conducted an unsupported rescue mission under fire. They saved the lives of the remaining consulate staff and recovered the body of Sean Smith, whom they then escorted back to their safehouse a mile away.
Once there, they came under fire again -- including fire from a terrorist team armed with mortars. Then something truly extraordinary and troubling took place:
At that point, they called again for military support and help because they were taking fire at the CIA safe house, or annex. The request was denied. There were no communications problems at the annex, according to those present at the compound. The team was in constant radio contact with their headquarters. In fact, at least one member of the team was on the roof of the annex manning a heavy machine gun when mortars were fired at the CIA compound. The security officer had a laser on the target that was firing, and repeatedly requested back-up support from a Spectre gunship, which is commonly used by U.S. special operations forces to provide support to special operation teams on the ground involved in intense firefights.
After reading this, I was simply stunned. According to the article, an American CIA agent had a laser on a target and was attempting to call in close air support -- and was denied. While this article never explicitly says so, some have suggested that the "security officer" in the article was Ty Woods, soon to be killed by that same mortar. Let's unpack this.
In this context, there are two ways to "lase" a target. One is simply using a visible laser designator/laser sight to point out the target's location. The second is the use of a laser target designator (LTD), which is a far more sophisticated device. An LTD uses coded pulses of a band of light not visible to the human eye, and these pulses communicate and synchronize with an aircraft-mounted module to direct a finite and fairly exclusive family of air-launched guided weapons.
If the CIA officer was lasing a target with the laser designator/laser sight on his weapon, one might argue (and some have) that this was an act of improvisation -- a hope that the visible lasing would convince the mortar team to flee their position in fear of being bombed. This position is not without merit but overlooks two salient facts. The first is that these security officers lasing the target were manning a heavy machine gun, which presumably would have the reach and power to eliminate the mortar team, or at least suppress it, without air support. It also overlooks the fact that the article directly states that the target was being lased for a specific asset, a "Spectre."
Airborne gunships have been around since the Vietnam war, when C-47 transport planes were first equipped with port-side mounted miniguns for close air support missions, becoming AC-47s.
By 1967, a desire to improve upon the concept involved replacing the aged twin-engine C-47 base aircraft with the four-engine C-130, which had greater speed, more fuel, and a greater capacity for weapons and ammunition. These AC130s carried various nicknames, including "Spooky" (inherited from the AC-47) and "Spectre," the latter of which has been the most publicly recognizable name of these powerful ground support aircraft.
If the CIA operators were using an LTD, it additionally means that air assets were not in Italy or Sicily on the ground. It means that strike aircraft were overhead, and were denied permission to fire from someone in the chain of command. LTDs must sync with overhead aircraft; they have no deterrent effect since they use a spectrum of light we cannot see and can only communicate with craft overhead.
I will caution that this is highly speculative, but an LTD would presumably not be used for just any variant of the C-130-based gunships. While we did have AC-130 gunships based close to Benghazi, they would not make the best use of targets lit by an LTD. The AC-130 uses guns, not guided weapons.
The same cannot be be said of another "Spectre" variant, the MC-130W.
The MC-130W is built to use precision-guided weapons, including the GBU-44/B Viper Strike glide bomb and the AGM-175 Griffin missile. Both are laser-guided weapons that can be directed using a ground-based LTD. Both are weapons designed to be highly accurate, with small warheads to greatly reduce the danger of collateral damage. They are precisely the kind of weapon an experienced CIA operator would call in if they wanted to reduce the threat of collateral damage, like the kind of damage that might be caused by firing an HMG from a rooftop.
If this is what occurred, it seems that even in weapon selection, the primary concern of the HMG operator was saving innocent lives.
But we do not know at this time which actually occurred. Based upon the information we can glean, we're left with two most probable outcomes.
Either the Obama administration refused to launch close-air support aircraft from nearby bases that could have eliminated enemy forces attacking Americans trapped on the ground, or we had close air support aircraft overhead that could have taken out the terrorists that had Americans under fire with precision weapons -- and the administration refused to let them fire.
The moral cowardice of both decisions is unconscionable.
Writing yesterday at the Weekly Standard, William Kristol asked ten questions of the administration, attempting to discover how the White House in general and President Obama in particular responded to the unfolding attacks. It is not a terribly exciting list of questions for the most part, nor was it intended to be. The questions emulate those that might be asked in a criminal indictment:
1.) To whom did the president give the first of his "three very clear directives" -- that is, "make sure that we are securing our personnel and doing whatever we need to"?
2.) How did he transmit this directive to the military and other agencies?
3.) During the time when Americans were under attack, did the president convene a formal or informal meeting of his national security council? Did the president go to the situation room?
4.) During this time, with which members of the national security team did the president speak directly?
5.) Did Obama speak by phone or teleconference with the combatant commanders who would have sent assistance to the men under attack?
6.) Did he speak with CIA director David Petraeus?
These are questions of leadership and basic competence that must be answered. Did Obama actually lead? If he did, who under his command failed?
Then Kristol asks the more provocative questions.
7.) Was the president made aware of the repeated requests for assistance from the men under attack? When and by whom?
8.) Did he issue any directives in response to these requests?
9.) Did the president refuse to authorize an armed drone strike on the attackers?
10.) Did the president refuse to authorize a AC-130 or MC-130 to enter Libyan airspace during the attack?
These ten questions alone could end a presidency, but they are far from the only questions swirling around Benghazi. As noted earlier, we face the question of what Ambassador Stevens was doing in Benghazi without security.
Some are speculating that Stevens was in Benghazi to facilitate the transfer of weapons to rebel forces in Syria fighting the regime of dictator Bashar Assad. This is the position of former CIA operative Clare Lopez.
The Libyan-flagged Al Entisar may be the smoking gun:
Through shipping records, Fox News has confirmed that the Libyan-flagged vessel Al Entisar, which means "The Victory," was received in the Turkish port of Iskenderun -- 35 miles from the Syrian border -- on Sept. 6, just five days before Ambassador Chris Stevens, information management officer Sean Smith and former Navy Seals Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty were killed during an extended assault by more than 100 Islamist militants.
On the night of Sept. 11, in what would become his last known public meeting, Stevens met with the Turkish Consul General Ali Sait Akin, and escorted him out of the consulate front gate one hour before the assault began at approximately 9:35 p.m. local time.
Retired Admiral James Lyons notes various sources claiming: "One of Stevens’ main missions in Libya was to facilitate the transfer of much of Gadhafi’s military equipment, including the deadly SA-7 -- portable SAMs -- to Islamists and other al-Qaeda-affiliated groups fighting the Assad Regime in Syria."
Barack Obama has long had a cozy relationship with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and their alliance with Islamists in Syria battling Bashir Assad has been criticized before.
If Ambassador Stevens was facilitating weapons transfers from Libya to Syrian Islamist forces aligned with al-Qaeda, via his Turkish alliance, then we are at a troubling, perhaps catastrophic point in this republic's history.
We have been at war with the Islamist hydra of al-Qaeda for more than a decade, and now sources are accusing a sitting president of arming this enemy.
18 USC § 2381 provides us with a legal threshold for treason:
Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.
Providing munitions to al-Qaeda-aligned Islamist forces would seem to meet that standard.
The Obama administration has the most damaging charge of all to which it must answer, and can be offered no quarter.