The Select Committee on Benghazi released a shocking report yesterday, detailing the bumbled efforts to save the American diplomatic team while politicians worked to protect their own backyards. The report, whose full contents can be found here, was written to be “worthy of the American people’s respect, and worthy of the memory of those who died,” according to Beghazi Chairman Trey Gowdy (SC).
“Nobody has ever reported that nothing was headed to Benghazi. Nobody has ever reported that not a single wheel was turning to Libya. God knows no one ever reported who actually evacuated our folks,” he mused, adding, “I’m proud of what we’ve found and I think it’s new.”
Although it may be worthy, the politicians named in the epic report seem decidedly not.
“We expect our government to make every effort to save the lives of Americans who serve in harm’s way. That did not happen in Benghazi.” Rep. Mike Pompeo scathed, “Politics were put ahead of the lives of Americans, and while the administration had made excuses and blamed the challenges posed by time and distance, the truth is that they did not try.”
Indeed they did not. When the news first broke, the White House convened an emergency meeting at 7:30 PM, that lasted a laconic 2 hours. The Vice President and Chiefs of Staff normally would have been there, but they went home to host a dinner party for foreign dignitaries. At the meeting itself, the main focus was on how Libya would react if they sent in uniformed military personnel to rescue the trapped diplomatic team. Many of the action items listed involve a Youtube video that was supposed to have sparked the tensions, and many statements include the phrases “[i]f any deployment is made,” and “Libya must agree to any deployment,” and “[w]ill not deploy until order comes to go to either Tripoli or Benghazi.” The tragic scene ended with not a single military team sent in time to rescue the Benghazi diplomats.
In fact, there had been sub-standard security in Benghazi long before the attacks. Ambassador Stevens had planned to travel to Benghazi in August, but cancelled his trip “primarily for Ramadan/security reasons.” The State Department, in a misplaced effort to not offend the Libyans, had enacted policies that included reduced security staff, and plainclothes dress.
Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (GA) issued a fuming statement: “One of the most concerning parts of the State Department’s policy in Libya was its reliance upon the militias of an unstable nation to protect our men and women in Benghazi. These were by no means forces that could adequately protect Americans on the ground, and the State Department knew it. But the appearance of no boots on the ground was more important to the administration.”
By the time a Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team (FAST,) stationed in Rota, Spain, was sent in to Tripoli, a full twenty four hours had elapsed since the beginning of the Benghazi attack. The commander of the team found out about the situation via the news. “I was actually talking to my dad on Skype, watching the Armed Forces Network new channel…and all of a sudden we see a consulate building on fire.” he recalls. “I got on the phone with my commanding officer, and we had a short talk .… And he said something more or less in the lines of, ‘Make sure you do your laundry and you got enough soap.’…Around midnight is when my platoon sergeant and I initiated the recall [to assemble the Marines].” Even assembled, the team waited for three hours, changing in and out of their uniforms four times, for orders to move.
Similarly, the deployment of the Commander’s In-extremis Force (CIF), a top-secret team used in crisis situations, was horribly bungled. Sent to a intermediate staging base in Sigonella, Italy, twenty two hours after the Benghazi attacks began, they had to wait there for a forklift to be brought from Zadar, Croatia before they could load themselves and their gear onto a plane to Zagreb International Airport, there to await further transportation. While waiting, the CIF Commander was not updated on what was happening on the ground until Ambassador Stevens was killed, nor was he told that the remaining personnel had been evacuated to the Annex, and that two more Americans died when the Annex was mortared.
Tied up in orders and failed paperwork, the American rescue teams failed to arrive in Benghazi in time to save U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and U.S. Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith, nor CIA contractors Tyrone S. Woods and Glen Doherty. In the end, the real heroes of the day were supporters of Omar Qhaddafi, who had been ousted by American forces not long before. Known as the Libyan Military Intelligence, they were not part of the Libyan government, nor any of the militias with whom the CIA or State Department had been cultivating a relationship. The organization was “comprised of former military officers under the Qadhafi regime who had gone into hiding in fear of being assassinated, and wanted to keep their presence in Benghazi as quiet as possible so as to not attract attention from the militias in control of Benghazi,” stated the report. They broke their silence to rescue the terrified American mission, sending 50 heavily armed security vehicles to extract the personnel there, and to transport them to the airport in Tripoli, where they set up a barricade and waited for American backup. Until that evening, the CIA had not even known that Libyan Military Intelligence existed. Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta bluntly told the committee that “an intelligence failure” occurred with respect to Benghazi.
In the aftermath of the 800-page Benghazi report, the politicians involved rushed to defend themselves. Although Hillary Clinton has been cleared of any wrong-doing, her campaign published a sour response: “The Republicans on the House Benghazi Committee are finishing their work in the same, partisan way that we’ve seen from them since the beginning. In refusing to issue its report on a bipartisan basis, the Committee is breaking from the precedent set by other Congressional inquiries into the Benghazi attacks.” Committee members deny any political agenda.
Rep. Martha Roby (AL), regrets: “Our committee’s insistence on additional information about the military’s response to the Benghazi attacks was met with strong opposition from the Defense Department, and now we know why. Instead of attempting to hide deficiencies in our posture and performance, it’s my hope our report will help ensure we fix what went wrong so that a tragedy like this never happens again.”