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Saturday, October 22, 2016

This weekend, The Weekend Reader brings you Under Fire: The Untold Story Of The Attack In Benghazi by former State Department counterterrorism deputy chief and Diplomatic Service agent and current vice president of a global private intelligence company Fred Burton, and Middle East security issues, international terrorism and counterterrorism expert Samuel M. Katz. Burton and Katz piece together, through public records and first-hand interviews, the 12 hours of the September 11, 2012 attacks on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya. 

There have been numerous congressional hearings to determine what went wrong in the military’s response, and why four Americans died in the attack. Scandal-hungry Republicans have insisted that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration are ultimately fully responsible for the casualties due to a complete lack of response. But this is a far deeper and complicated circumstance than the GOP explains. While they don’t address any scandal at the hands of the federal government, Burton and Katz explain the logistical procedures of responding to this type of attack and how–despite objection from the GOP — the administration in fact followed these procedures and sought out every possible option to save the Americans in the compound. 

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The elite of the elite, the two-pronged dagger of JSOC, did not respond to protests and fires. Governments did not dispatch their most elite units, men who are truly not replaceable, unless the situation warranted a razor-sharp slice and not a wide-handed slap. Anyway, deploying one of the JSOC units from the continental United States would take hours.

There was always the Marine Corps — a branch of the armed forces with an illustrious combat legacy and entrenched history with Libya. In 1987, in the aftermath of nearly twenty years of global terrorist attacks that seemed endless and without solution, the U.S. Marine Corps adhered to a presidential directive mandating all branches of the military to enhance their counterterrorist capabilities. The USMC response was the FAST, Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team, companies, which could respond quickly to incidents around the world where Americans required emergency military aid. FAST units saw action in 1989 in Panama and in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm. FAST companies worked security in Somalia following the withdrawal of U.S. peacekeepers from Mogadishu and then secured the evacuation of the U.S. diplomatic presence in Monrovia, Liberia, during the civil war. FAST platoons provided tactical security to investigative teams following Saudi Hezbollah’s bombing of a U.S. Air Force barracks in Saudi Arabia in 1996. FAST platoons were on site immediately after the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998; FAST marines secured the damaged USS Cole in Aden, Yemen, following the deadly attack on the warship in October 2000. They were a globally on-call force.

The FAST unit closest to Benghazi was FAST Company Europe, which reported to the Marine Corps Security Force Regiment, II Marine Expeditionary Force. Based at the Naval Station Rota, Spain,

FAST Company Europe was no stranger to crisis and response work in the Mediterranean. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta ordered that appropriate forces respond. A task order flowed from the Pentagon to NAVSTA Rota, Spain: “Lean forward and get there as fast as you can.” The marines mustered into their transport aircraft on the tarmac in their combat fatigues and full battle kit. However, logistic challenges such as airspace and overflight clearances are not easily sorted out, especially involving a nation like Libya. Sending armed U.S. Marines into a sovereign nation became a complex foreign policy decision with multiple moving pieces between the Libyan Foreign Ministry, the Pentagon, and the State Department. The marines waited on the tarmac for their orders. The FAST platoon wouldn’t make it to Libya, to augment security at the embassy in Tripoli, until the next evening.

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AFRICOM, headquartered at Kelley Barracks in Stuttgart, Germany, was responsible for Libya and the closest operational command to have the assets, especially special operations forces, that could respond. AFRICOM was founded in 2000, with the looking-glass forethought that Africa would become a continent of vital interest to the United States, especially as it related to the war on Islamic terrorism, and AFRICOM was announced prior to the 9/11 attacks. The hell of Mogadishu was a wake-up call to American military planners, as was the realization that Africa was so volatile, so precariously steeped in failed-state chaos, that it was an ideal petri dish inside which the plague of Islamic fundamentalism could morph into an all-encompassing pandemic. AFRICOM is tasked and equipped to handle U.S. military operations and straight-on relationships with fifty-three African nations; it covers the entire continent with the exception of Egypt, which for reasons of geopolitical importance is still the focus of U.S. Central Command, or CENTCOM. The fledgling post-revolution dysfunction that was Libya was the true personification of why AFRICOM was created— as a focal point of American military interests and operations to stem the seemingly unstoppable growth of Islamic-inspired violence, led by an implacable al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. AFRICOM was General Carter F. Ham’s shop. The general realized— before the September 11, 2012, attack— that Libya would have an intrinsic influence on the future of terrorism on the continent and especially in the northern half of the continent.

Even though AFRICOM was closer, geographically, to Benghazi than any other major American military command center, there was still an inescapable issue of logistics. Even for AFRICOM, assembling the personnel and the aircraft, addressing the operational intelligence, and securing permission from the Libyan government in order to respond forcefully to the developing situation in Benghazi were going to take hours. As much as technological innovations and the U.S. presence throughout the world— especially following the 9/11 attacks— had turned the planet into a condensed theater of operations for the United States and its global interests, issues of logistics and kilometers still required adequate start-up and deployment times for even the most immediate of global emergencies. There was no U.S. Air Force AC-130 gunship anywhere near the African continent that could have been diverted to fly close air support and aid rescue efforts. The fastest response boiled down to an unarmed drone that AFRICOM diverted from a mission “somewhere” over the continent.

There was never a question concerning U.S. resolve or the overall capabilities of the U.S. military to respond to Benghazi. There was, however, nothing immediate about an immediate response. There were logistics and host-nation approvals to consider. An immediate response was hampered by the equation of geography and logistics.

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  • THS_Warrior

    How amazing. After positing over 6,500 comments supporting Democrats and President Obama on about ten different media sites (mostly conservative since mid-2008, this is the first time I have ever posted the very first comment on any site. Ask me if I am surprised…

    • charleo1

      The lack of comment on Benghazi reveals that for all but those habilitating
      in the Right Wing bubble. The tragic events leading to the deaths of a dedicated public servant, Ambassador Stevens, and his security contingent
      are, in the minds of most Americans, settled A regrettable, but in the end, an unavoidable part of the risks our State Department personnel face every day,
      in many parts of the world. Can we learn from the events in Benghazi ways
      to make our diplomats, and their staffs more safe? I think the answer is yes.
      But was there a case to be made of reckless, or careless negligence, or
      complicity even, as some shameless partisan right wing hacks have implied?
      The answer is absolutely not!

      • Dominick Vila

        What puzzles me the most is why did Ambassador Stevens decide to go to Benghazi, one of the most dangerous spots in Northern Africa, with only two security guards? The explanation that he went there to meet the Turkish Ambassador does not make sense. Why would two ambassadors meet in Benghazi instead of Tripoli where their embassies are located? With the exception of oil, and substantial Koch brothers investments, there is nothing in the Benghazi area that would require the presence of two ambassadors.

        • charleo1

          Several weeks before his murder, Rachel Maddow did a
          short article on the Ambassador. In it she noted President
          Obama had recalled Stevens because of concerns about
          his safety. What Maddow reported, and was, the reason for
          the article, was that Stevens had ask that Obama reconsider
          his recall. That he, (Stevens,) acknowledged there was a
          risk, but felt very strongly his presence, especially in Benghazi, was worth the risk, and Obama relented. The Maddow article included film clips of Ambassador Stevens
          in amongst a crowd at a rebel stronghold near Benghazi,
          just after the NATO campaign had gotten underway. The rebels were cheering, and it was obvious, Stevens was the symbol of the much welcomed military action. Then, a few days after the 9/11 incident, a CNN reporter found a diary
          at the compound, in Steven’s own hand, pretty much verifying the Maddow article. Later, an op ed. by Steven’s Father, also confirmed his Son was aware of the danger,
          and was of the impression he was on an Al Qaeda hit list. But, his Father described in the same piece, his Son’s belief that being accessible, and creating an atmosphere of trust,
          was how Steven’s felt he could best fulfill his mission.
          He also went on to say, the last thing his Son would have wanted, was for his death to be used as a partisan political issue. As to why, exactly he was there. We know from his personal journal, he had had several meetings earlier that day, with various local factions. But in light of what we have since come to know about Ambassador Stevens. He was there most likely, because that’s where he thought he needed to be.

  • howa4x

    Issa only got onto Benghazi for an election issue and FOX ran it around the clock. They tried to paint Obama as an incompetent on foreign policy and came up with the slogan of leading from behind. This incident fell into their dogma. they never wanted to truth. They also forget to bring up Kobar towers bombing in Saudi Arabia where 150 US military were killed under Bush 1, and Lebanon where 281 Marines were killed in a suicide bombing during Regan’s term. Seems having an American killed under a democrat is incompetence and under republican it’s a national tragedy. Lets not forget the largest intelligence blunder in recent history, the attack on 9/11/01 under Bush 2.

    • ralphkr

      Yep, howa4x, and you should see the hornet nest of vituperation that I stir up on those conservative windbag sites when I bring up the fact that the only reason those servicemen were killed was because of Reagan’s order that at no time should the marines carry loaded weapons. By the time the sentries had loaded their weapons to fire on the truck it was past them and at the building.

      • Dominick Vila

        Along the same lines, don’t forget the justification that Reagan used when he ordered the biggest cut and run in U.S. history: “that’s not our war”.

        • Independent1

          How about the Reagan administration also sitting back and saying nothing about Saddam using chemical weapons against the Iranians? Or was it Bush Sr. that allowed that to go on? Or Reagan insisting that the Marines stationed in Lebanon couldn’t carry loaded weapons which allowed the bombers with their truck to get through the barracks complex gate and detonate their bomb right next to the barracks killing 241 Marines.

          • Dominick Vila

            Don’t forget that indifference was just part of the problem when Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq war. The Reagan administration provided WMDs to the Saddam regime, train them, and provided them with military intelligence, including satellite imagery that suggested collusion between the Iranians and the Kurds during that war.
            The most offensive part of the Beirut tragedy for me involves Reagan’s declaration – after our Marines were slaughtered – that the turmoil in Lebanon was not our war and ordered our troops to withdraw, without punishing the terrorists that killed our soldiers. There is a pattern to Reagan’s indifference to attacks against our soldiers and civilians. Kaddafi got away with murder after the Pan Am bombing over Lockerbie…until President Obama decided to make that thug pay for his crime.

    • Dominick Vila

      Terrorist attacks during George W. Bush’s tenure:

      2001 – World Trade Center, New York and Pentagon, DC; 3,000 killed.

      2002 – U.S. Consulate in Karachi Pakistan attacked, 12 killed; 51 injured.

      2003 – International Compound, Saudi Arabia, 17 killed .

      2003 – U.S. Consulate, Karachi, Pakistan, 2 killed.

      2004 – U.S. Embassy bombed in Uzbekistan, 2 killed 9 injured.

      2004 – U.S. Consulate Saudi Arabia, 8 killed.

      2006 – U.S. Consulate, Karachi, Pakistan. 4 killed including a U.S. diplomat.

      2006 – U.S. Embassy, Syria, 1 killed and 13 wounded.

      2007 – Grenade launched into the U.S. Embassy in Athens. No casualties.

      2008 – U.S. Embassy, Serbia, attacked by thousands. No casualties.

      2008 – U.S. Consulate, Turkey, 3 killed.

      2008 – U.S. Embassy in Yemen bombed, 13 killed.
      Needless to say, there were also daily attacks against our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, and terrorist attacks in Madrid and London to punish the two countries that joined us at the outset of the crusades.
      Benghazi became a scandal for two reasons: to influence the outcome of the 2012 election, and to minimize the importance of what happened during Bush’s tenure.

      • howa4x

        Sad but true

  • docb

    A waste of time and money!

  • CalSailor

    According to the ARB, the Ambassador was scheduled for some senior deplomatic meetings in Benghazi…they had been scheduled for awhile, but as the threat of the anniversary began to increase, the Ambassador’s meetings were to be held in the Benghazi location, or by phone. According to the ARB, the Ambassador had only some windows available to go to Benghazi, as he ws also scheduled for activities in Tripoli, thus he had limited options on scheduling to Benghazi. Also, the intel chatter in the whole region was getting very active, but supposedly before the attack they did not pinpoint a specific day, so security was hightened but not oriented around a specific time or event.

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