The Benghazi debacle

We’ve learned a lot about the 9/11/2012 attack during the last week. When the attack began, CIA operators stationed in Benghazi wanted to go to the consulate’s aid. They were ordered, twice, to “stand down”, and leave the consulate’s personnel to face their attackers alone. They disobeyed, went to the consulate and rescued the surviving personnel that they could find. (Tragically, they were not able to located ambassador Chris Stevens.)

Then they fell back to the CIA annex, which thereafter fell under attack. During the firefight that ensued, they requested military support, but that was denied. The firefight did not end until seven hours after the consulate attack began, which means that there was more than enough time to send air support from Italy, just two hours away.

Indeed, one CIA operator was painting targets with a laser designator, suggesting that there were air assets present that were not given permission to fire, but this has not been confirmed. It’s also been suggested that they might have designated targets as a bluff, to buy time by inducing the attackers to move. If so, it might have worked, except that the military did nothing with the time the ruse bought.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, asked why the military sent no assistance, gave this astonishing answer:

[The] basic principle is that you don’t deploy forces into harm’s way without knowing what’s going on; without having some real-time information about what’s taking place. And as a result of not having that kind of information, the commander who was on the ground in that area, Gen. Ham, Gen. Dempsey and I felt very strongly that we could not put forces at risk in that situation.

This is utter bullshit. We deploy military force without real-time intelligence all the time. It’s not called the fog of war for nothing! It’s preferable to have real-time intelligence, to be sure, but that’s a luxury one rarely has. We cannot shackle our military that way, and we never do — at least, we never used to.

If we take this idiotic policy seriously — and I truly hope that Panetta is simply lying — it says that we will never reinforce a position that comes under surprise attack. As long as the enemy can finish its attack before we can obtain real-time intelligence, they have nothing to fear from the US military!

Moreover, even if we really had such a stupid policy, Panetta’s defense still isn’t true. Military sources have reported that our drones over Benghazi were unarmed (uh, why?), but that confirms that there were drones overhead, so we did have some real-time intelligence.

Panetta’s effort at a post hoc justification aside, inside reports show an administration deeply ambivalent about responding to the attack:

CBS News has learned that during the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Mission in Benghazi, the Obama Administration did not convene its top interagency counterterrorism resource: the Counterterrorism Security Group, (CSG).

“The CSG is the one group that’s supposed to know what resources every agency has. They know of multiple options and have the ability to coordinate counterterrorism assets across all the agencies,” a high-ranking government official told CBS News. “They were not allowed to do their job. They were not called upon.” . . .

Another senior counter terrorism official says a hostage rescue team was alternately asked to get ready and then stand down throughout the night, as officials seemed unable to make up their minds.

A third potential responder from a counter-terror force stationed in Europe says components of AFICOM — the military’s Africa Command based in Stuttgart, Germany — were working on course of action during the assault. But no plan was put to use.

President Obama, who has frequently boasted about how he, himself, all alone, without anyone else, individually took the brave, lonely responsibility of ordering the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden. But now he curiously absents himself from the chain of command, saying “If we find out that there was a big breakdown and somebody didn’t do their job, then they’ll be held responsible.” He has ordered an investigation. If it reveals who is in charge of our military, I suppose that will be useful.

Someone left our people in Benghazi to die, but whoever that person was, the blame belongs to the man at the top.

(Previous post.)

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