Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told the Senate Armed Services Committee this morning that the Pentagon should not be relied upon to cover all diplomatic missions — namely, the U.S. facility attacked over a period of several hours in Benghazi on Sept. 11.
After Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) vowed to block the nomination of any new defense secretary unless Panetta testified about Benghazi, the defense chief appeared before the panel along with Chairman of the Join Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey.
“The United States military, as I’ve said, is not and, frankly, should not be a 911 service capable of arriving on the scene within minutes to every possible contingency around the world. The U.S. military has neither the resources nor the responsibility to have a fire house next to every U.S. facility in the world,” Panetta said in his opening statement.
“We have some key bases, particularly in this region. We have some key platforms from which we can deploy. And we have forces on alert, and we’re prepared to move,” he continued. “But our ability to identify threats, to adjust posture, to prevent plots, and respond to attacks to our personnel at home and overseas depends on actionable intelligence — and it always will.”
Four Americans died in the Benghazi assault, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.
Panetta said the Defense Department is working with the State Department and the intelligence community “to ensure that our collection and analysis is linked with military posture and planning.”
“At the same time, we’re working closely with State to ensure they have our best estimate of response times for each at-risk diplomatic facility so that they can make the best informed decisions about adjustments to their staff presence in areas of increased security threat,” he said. “We’ve deployed key response forces abroad. We have reduced their response time. But let me again say to you that even those — those forces that are on a tight alert time of N-plus-two — notice plus two hours — to be able to on a plane. Once those forces are put on airlift, it still requires many hours in that part of the world to fly distances, long distances in order to be able to respond.”
“I firmly believe that the Department of Defense and the U.S. armed forces did all we could do in the response to the attacks in Benghazi and employed every asset at our disposal that could have been used to help save lives of our American colleagues.”