Following the CIA’s explanation of its actions in Benghazi on 9/11/12, the Defense Department is justifying its actions-or lack thereof. In an nutshell: The Pentagon’s defense of our failure to deploy military force to defend those under attack in Benghazi is that the US did not have the capability in the region to intervene.
If true, this is a very sad defense indeed.
According to this NYT story, the American command responsible for Libya-AFRICOM-did not have armed drones, AC130s, or special operations forces at its disposal. Special Forces were in Croatia; Delta Force in North Carolina; AC130s in Afghanistan; Marines in Spain. According to the Pentagon, none were able to reach the beleaguered in Benghazi in time. (The conflicting stories about AC130s is particularly vexing.)
This is troubling indeed. Note that it makes Panetta look deceptive: he implied that the reason that we did not come to the aid to those under attack was a lack of intelligence on the location of the attacking forces, not a lack of ability to act on the intelligence. There is a big difference.
And pushing back against the Pentagon’s assertion that the defenders of the annex in Benghazi never designated the mortars that killed them with targeting lasers, Fox News’s Jennifer Griffin reports that (a) those in the annex were highly trained and eminently capable of designating targets, (b) had the capability to do so, (c) asked for air support, but (d) none was forthcoming:
The GRS team that was present at the CIA annex provided security for the CIA station, as they do around the world. They are highly trained in countersurveillance, close target reconnaissance and in depth reconnaissance. Enemy fighters have learned in Afghanistan and Iraq to use their cell phones to follow or intercept these “passive” lasers without having night vision or NODS.
The Annex team also had Ground Laser Designators, or GLD. This kind of laser equipment emits code and signal when there is overhead air support, unmanned aerial surveillance, drones or Spectre gunships, for instance.
A source present the night of the attack says that the GRS team that was defending the annex asked where the air support was at midnight. Former SEALs Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty were killed 5 hours and 15 minutes later.
Five hours, fifteen minutes. An eternity, if you are under attack.
This gives the lie to Panetta’s assertion that lack of intelligence impeded a strike against the attackers. One can hardly imagine better information than that provided by trained eyes on the ground, with the equipment to pinpoint those attacking them. Which leaves two alternatives: the US wouldn’t come to the aid of those under attack, or it couldn’t.
Taking the Pentagon at its word, no AC130s or special operations forces or armed drones were available to strike. But what about fixed wing air, e.g., F-16s from Europe, armed with precision munitions (including laser-guided weapons)? Presumably the answer will be that this would have endangered civilians on the ground.
If that’s the case, let’s hear it, instead of having to infer it.
Another answer, less defensible, is that we did not have Libyan permission to engage, and took a Mother May I? attitude instead of one of Nelsonian defiance. (Could General Ham’s premature departure from AFRICOM be due to his desire to act like Nelson at Copenhagen, and turn a blind eye to orders to observe diplomatic niceties?)
Again, if that’s the case, let’s hear it.
So why did the Pentagon wait so long to provide this information, and grudgingly? Certainly all these facts were known when the attack occurred.
The only explanation I can offer is that it was loath to admit that we are for all practical purposes completely defenseless in Northern Africa. For defenselessness is what this Pentagon justification for passivity in Benghazi on 9/11/12 implies.
If this is true, I can understand their reticence. It is a shocking revelation, that the US has virtually no ability to intervene in a region that is (a) in upheaval, (b) is a potential source of terrorism, and (c) is indeed quite clearly a cauldron of Al Qaeda/Islamist/Salafist activity.
Under this interpretation the stonewall-and there has no doubt been a stonewall over all of this-is intended to conceal our deficient capabilities in this seething yet strategic region.
This makes all the other deficiencies in security in Benghazi pre-9/11/12 even more reprehensible. Not only were people put into Indian country, there was no cavalry to ride to the rescue. If we knew there was no cavalry available, it was beyond reckless to put Ambassador Stevens and the other Americans in such a vulnerable position.
The Benghazi story has three parts: what happened (or didn’t) before 9/11; what happened (or didn’t) on 9/11; and what happened after 9/11. If the Pentagon’s explanation is correct, it reduces administration culpability for inaction on 9/11, but makes its responsibility for what transpired before and after even worse. The revelation of the inability of the military to come to the defense of those in Benghazi makes the failure to take precautions even more reprehensible and indefensible. It also makes the stories told post-9/11 look even more like attempts to cover up for egregiously negligent conduct.
This also sheds a very harsh light on Obama’s whole “bayonets and horses” snark. At root, Obama’s sarcastic response to Romney’s questioning of the size of the US military presumed that quality could substitute for quantity: our weapons are so marvelous we don’t need that many of them. We definitely possess weapons and sensors capabilities far beyond those of any other nation. But if the platforms possessing those capabilities are in Croatia or Afghanistan or Fort Bragg or Rota, but not Libya when Americans are under attack in Libya, those awesome capabilities are useless: they might as well be on the moon. Capable platforms are just so much expensive junk if they are not where they are needed when they are needed.
Which means that numbers matter.
If the Pentagon and CIA reports are to be credited: Americans were put at huge risk in Benghazi, without adequate resources to deal with those risks; supremely trained personnel were available to provide the real time intelligence necessary to guide our awesome precision capabilities against those attacking the consulate and annex; but the precision capabilities were not at hand, because we are spread too thin across the globe.
No wonder they want to keep it under wraps.