My son Daniel did a combat tour of Fallujah in 2007, but his other deployment with the Marine Corps was a MEU to the Gulf of Aden and Persian Gulf (which both he and I think is a horrible way to throw away money if we're never going to use the Marine Corps for anything on these MEUs except for humanitarian missions - but that's another topic). As the pre-deployment workup for this MEU, the Battalion underwent extensive training in evidence collection protocol and procedures. At the time I [read more]
Bob Owens posted a very interesting piece at PJM on October 29th detailing the events of the Benghazi Attacks. Essentially, Owens speculates that Ambassador Stevens may have been tasked by the Obama Administration with assisting in the transfer of Libyan Army weapons and munitions to the Al-Qaeda-linked, Syrian rebels via Turkey. In support of the theory, Owens links to reports indicating that a Libyan-flagged ship, Al Entisar, docked at the Turkish port of Iskenderun, 35 miles from the Syrian border, just five days prior to a meeting between Ambassador Stevens and the Turkish Consul General, Ali Sait Akin on September 11.
I do not share in this particular theory or find it likely. It is simply too fantastic to believe that an American president, even one with obvious Islamist sympathies as Obama, would actively coordinate efforts to transfer sophisticated, anti-air weapons to groups linked to or sympathetic with Al Qaeda. Such a theory is also at odds with the fact that Ambassador Stevens regularly communicated to the Administration that Al Qaeda-affiliated groups in Benghazi were growing in power and influence. Stevens’ repeated requests for additional security grew out of these concerns. It makes no sense, therefore, that Stevens would be working with the very groups that attacked the consulate on September 11 and killed him.
There is, however, a far more plausible explanation that builds upon the growing pool of facts.
Bob Owens provides this very interesting bit of information:
Trucks with with the Islamist cell’s logo and with heavy machine guns mounted on them took up blocking positions around the consulate no later than 8:00 p.m., according to Libyan eyewitnesses. These so-called “technicals” did not let anyone in or out for one hour and 40 minutes, until the attack began at 9:40 p.m. local time.
If it is true that the Islamists had effectively cordoned off the area around the consulate by 8:00 p.m., how did the Turkish Consul General Akin escape this cordon? We know that the meeting between Akin and Ambassador Stevens ended sometime between 9:00 p.m. and 9:35 p.m. The implication is that Akin was allowed to pass through and out of the Islamists’ cordon. If so, this has some extremely disturbing implications.
If the Ansar Al-Sharia fighters allowed the Turkish Consul General to pass then there may very well have been at the very least a tacit, working relationship between Turkey and the Islamists. Given the Islamist sympathies of Turkey’s leadership, it is easy to conceive of an alliance between Turkey and Islamist groups in Benghazi that would facilitate the transfer of sophisticated weapons from old Libyan stockpiles and into the hands of Islamists in Syria fighting to bring down the Assad regime. Moreover, it could well be that Turkey wishes to have its own cat’s paw in Syria to sway the outcome in Turkey’s favor. This might involve equipping and transporting Islamists from Libya to Syria.
Putting these pieces together, I posit the following theory as to the Benghazi Attacks: the Obama Administration tasked Ambassador Stevens with trying to stem the flow of sophisticated weaponry from Libya to Syria. Stevens received the intelligence on the docking of Al Entisar at Iskenderun and the likelihood that the ship carried arms for Islamists in Syria. He arranged for a meeting with the Turkish Consul General Akin on September 11th for the purpose of laying down a red line with Turkey. Consul General Akin likely knew that the Islamist group, Ansar Al-Sharia, planned to attack the consulate on September 11th and received assurances that he would be protected. It may be possible that Akin used this information in his meeting with Ambassador Stevens as a latent threat for the U.S. to allow the arms transfers to continue or face the consequences. It is easy to believe that Akin failed to convince Stevens and, after parting company, informed the Ansar Al-Sharia fighters that the attack could proceed.
It is not difficult to believe that Turkey is willing to play hard ball in this manner. Syria shares a long border with Turkey and is of vital national interest. The Saudis and Qataris are currently supporting Islamist elements in the Syrian rebel movement. Turkey’s interests in Syria do not necessarily align with either nation. It is entirely plausible that Turkey could want its own armed faction as leverage in Syria. Libya provides the Turks with an abundant supply of fighters and weaponry that cannot be readily traced to Turkey. If Turkey felt that the U.S. might impede this strategy, it might very well allow Ansar Al-Sharia to do the dirty work in Benghazi. This is an explosive issue for the Obama Administration which has cozied up to Turkey throughout the past four years. Hence the stonewalling and obfuscation.
In some respects, this larger geopolitical picture is far more important than the attacks in Benghazi. For one, it shows that all the talk of partnership between the U.S. and Turkey belies a new and disturbing antagonism. If Turkey is willing to back Islamists in Syria for its own ends and in conflict with U.S. interests, we have a very different and far more dangerous picture in the Middle East. Secondly, a Turkey that is turning against the U.S. makes it imperative to find and develop effective counterweights in the Middle East. Syria, Iraq, Jordan and, of course, Israel all come to mind. Third, such a turn of events calls into question the NATO alliance, or at least Turkey’s membership and its access to cutting edge U.S. technology.
In a way, the death of Ambassador Stevens may prove to be yet another “shot heard ’round the world,” with Stevens in the role of the Archduke Ferdinand.