So What Were The Assets Available For Benghazi?

BY Herschel Smith
11 years, 7 months ago

Weekly Standard has been busy covering the Benghazi scandal.  I had earlier remarked that:

The notion that we don’t send our forces into harm’s way without knowing what’s going on is patently absurd and false.  Simply said, it’s a lie.  We deploy Army Rangers to take control of air fields and landing zones in potentially hostile environments, for which we do not know all of the desired information; we deploy Marine infantry into situations of potentially unknown threats all of the time all over the globe; each and every time a patrol left the outpost at the Korengal in Afghanistan, they were deploying into potentially deadly situations without specific and detailed knowledge of the situation.

A reader at Weekly Standard writes in with the following:

… one can find in Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication 1: Warfighting the following passage on pages 86 and 87:

“We must have the moral courage to make tough decisions in the face of uncertainty–and to accept full responsibility for those decisions–when the natural inclination would be to postpone the decision pending more complete information.  To delay action in an emergency because of incomplete information shows a lack of moral courage.  We do not want to make rash decisions, but we must not squander opportunities while trying to gain more information.  Finally, since all decisions must be made in the face of uncertainty and since every situation is unique, there is no perfect solution to any battlefield problem.  Therefore, we should not agonize over one.”

Just so, and good find, that one.  But on another front, Bill Kristol covers the various finger pointing within the administration, just as do I.  But then there is this pregnant statement along with the link.

In response perhaps to the questions raised by Petraeus and Panetta, there now appears to be an attempt by some defense officials to suggest there really wasn’t much more that could have been done on September 11, given limitations on the assets and capabilities available.

The link takes you to an article at AEI by Paul Wolfowitz.  Now comes the interesting part.  I need to cite at length.

From what I can determine from talking with someone who has spoken directly with key general officers and others involved in the US response to the Benghazi attacks, it would appear that – contrary to Panetta’s “basic principle” – the US did almost everything possible to protect our people once the attacks had started, though not in advance:

The Consulate was overrun in a matter of minutes, before any help was possible.

A team that appears to have been CIA personnel deployed quickly (and bravely) from the Annex to the Consulate and rescued everyone they found alive there. (It’s not clear whether Ambassador Stevens had already been taken by Libyans to the hospital or whether they simply failed to find him.)

A mainly CIA response force deployed quickly from Tripoli to reinforce the Annex and facilitate its successful evacuation.

Decision makers in Washington appear to have been leaning forward, as they should have been. The military’s most capable rescue force, based on the East Coast, was deployed immediately (something that is very rarely done), but – given the distances involved – arrived at Sigonella only after the crisis was over.

Also, the  European command (EUCOM) deployed its number one counter terrorism force, which was training in central Europe, as quickly as possible, but it arrived in Sigonella after the evacuation of the Annex was complete.

Other special forces deployed to Sigonella but arrived on the 12th after it was too late to make a difference in Benghazi.

There was no AC-130 gunship in the region.

The only drone available in Libya was an unarmed surveillance drone which was quickly moved from Darna to Benghazi, but the field of view of these drones is limited and, in any case, this one was not armed.

The only other assets immediately available were F-16 fighter jets based at Aviano, Italy. These aircraft might have reached Benghazi while the fight at the Annex was still going on, but they would have had difficulty pinpointing hostile mortar positions or distinguishing between friendly and hostile militias in the midst of a confused firefight in a densely populated residential area where there would have been a high likelihood of civilian casualties. While two more Americans were tragically killed by a mortar strike on the Annex, it’s not clear that deploying F-16’s would have prevented that. In any case, the decision not to do so was made by the tactical commander, General Ham, as it should have been.

Let’s leave aside my personal feelings towards Wolfowitz (he helped to begin Operation Iraqi Freedom with too few men to tamp down the inevitable insurgency, thus leading to Phase II and III of OIF).  I don’t have much fondness for him.

But back to what he said, this is a remarkable claim.  According to this claim, the Africa command (based in Europe) had no assets to which it could turn.  None.  Contrary to reports (that I have cited), there were no Delta operators at Sigonella.  There was no AC-130, there wasn’t even Marine Force Recon, again, contrary to published reports that I have cited.

They were apparently all in the field, deployed across Africa.  No one was available.  There were no air assets available to assist the poor souls at Benghazi.  Not even an MP or cook could have responded from Sigonella.  The base (the American side of it, anyway) was a ghost town.  The closest asset was … the Eastern coast of the United States.

I don’t believe it.  I’m not saying that I don’t believe Wolfowitz, but I don’t believe his sources.  How the hell does one run Africa command with no assets at your disposal?  Besides, this answer is too easy to produce and then move on after the furor dies down.

This leads me to the final point.  There are so many reports – many of them false by design – that the picture is worse by the day.  What happened at Benghazi happened.  The horrible picture developing before our eyes is one of obfuscation, dishonesty, diversion, lies and excuses.

Here’s a note to the DoD and State Department.  Listen very carefully.  Wolfowitz says “it would appear.”  That’s not even nearly good enough.  We won’t accept appearances, or anonymous sources.  There is a paper trail of deployments, locations, arming orders, force sizes, and so on and so forth.  There is yet another paper trail of orders, requests, directives and other communications that fateful night.

We won’t stop until it is all public and assessed by all of us.  We will get it, eventually.  We will all see it.  We will know who did what, who said what, what assets were where, who lied, who equivocated, and who came clean.  We will name names.

The players who have any integrity left should come clean now and spill everything.  It will go better for everyone in the long run.  But it won’t change the facts.  And the facts will be found out.  That’s our promise.

UPDATE #1: Thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the attention.

UPDATE #2: It occurs to me from the comments and from other remarks that I have seen elsewhere that we need to deal with one objection up front, i.e., that there wasn’t time before the fire fight was over to transport assets to Benghazi to assist.  This is an illegitimate objection, since we cannot assume that the decision-makers at that time know what we know now (that is, that the fight would last about a half day).  For all they knew, the fight would have lasted for days on end, with Americans holed up in buildings awaiting relief.  Ex post facto objections like this have no legs.  They constitute excuses, but they don’t explain the decision-making at the time.

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  1. On October 31, 2012 at 9:53 pm, thucydides said:

    The truth will come out and we need to trumpet it loudly and repeatedly. These POS’s will be trying for years to cement their version of events through appearances on TV, books and movies.

    They gave us the tools and perfect opportunity to forever discredit Obama, his administration, the Democrat party and legacy media, and consign them to a richly deserved oblivion. Take the opportunity and run with it!

  2. On October 31, 2012 at 10:05 pm, tioedong said:

    maybe the consulate was overrun too quickly for help to arrive, but Sean Smith, aka VileRat, who had experience of being mortared in the Green Zone, signed off to his fellow gamers 90 minutes before the start of the attack, saying he saw something suspicious (a man in a uniform taking photos) and told them he’d be back on the next day “if I am still alive”.

    That, to me, sounds like Smith expected an attack: Was he able to call in a drone or a satellite to spy if there was signs of things reported by local civilians, including road blocks and getting the crowd together? If not, why not? Did anyone put in a “headsup” of the possible attack? And why did their subcontracted guards have to leave Smith and the Ambassador to get their weapons out of storage?

  3. On October 31, 2012 at 10:16 pm, Tcobb said:

    My father fought in WWII and Korea. He had a special loathing and contempt for “politician soldiers.” To those in the higher echelons of the military who seek to run cover for Barrack Obama I just humbly wish that you will be broken down to the rank of private and will be entrusted to taking a heavily defended Taliban position in Afghanistan with bayonets only.

  4. On October 31, 2012 at 10:16 pm, Herschel Smith said:

    First of all, that’s not true. It was a sustained military engagement that took some half a day and involved several hundred fighters.

    But second, that is, how should I say it (lawyers forgive me) an ex post facto objection. It is illegitimate. When the boys watching the video were doing just that, they had no idea how long it would last. You cannot formulate objections based on what you know now. You must consider the condition at the time, and at the time, all they saw was a military engagement.

    Finally, they had no idea how the engagement would end. For all they knew, it would end with Americans and allies scattered through the streets running for their lives, or hidden in buildings, waiting for American assets to show up and help them.

    Not knowing how it would end, they ensured how it would. They abandoned Americans to perish.

  5. On October 31, 2012 at 10:19 pm, M. Report said:

    All it takes is one order from POTUS: Everybody tell everything;
    No blame will attach for telling the truth, however bad it is, but
    lie, and you _will_ end up buried _under_ Leavenworth.

  6. On October 31, 2012 at 10:33 pm, Nomadic100 said:

    More details have already been published in various sources than the administration has revealed. Some details have neither been published nor revealed but we know the administration is lying. That’s enough.

  7. On October 31, 2012 at 10:40 pm, Ching Dao said:

    You’re not going to get a full paper trail. All the SOF stuff and more is, and will remain classified. POTUS Romney? Don’t make me laugh. He will cite operational security and assign it to “top men”.

  8. On October 31, 2012 at 10:42 pm, Herschel Smith said:

    The SOF issue occurred to me. But it will all end up in Congressional and Senate investigations at least in some redacted form.

    Edit: Also, you assume that no one will release it anyway. OPSEC and FOUO stuff gets released all the time.

  9. On November 1, 2012 at 12:36 am, Henry Racette said:


    Agree 100% about the need to see the document trail, get first-hand accounts from named sources, etc. Cover-up has to end, and fast. Before next Tuesday would be nice….

    One point about which I’m unclear. You wrote: “There was no AC-130, there wasn’t even Marine Force Recon, again, contrary to published reports that I have cited.”

    The article you linked (“published reports”) was about the new Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force 12 recently deployed to Sigonella. Dateline on the article is October 5–three weeks after the 9/11 event, which wouldn’t seem to support your comment if I’m reading you right, as the deployment came too late. Am I missing something?


  10. On November 1, 2012 at 1:05 am, Lee Dodson said:

    I want to hear from Ham first, and then I want to hear from the rescued personnel. Next, I want to hear from the Admiral who was relieved. Were these brass arrested? Communiques specifically say that Ham was “apprehended” by a real RAA named Rodriguez, famous for his rules of engagement in Afghanistan.

    Next, I want Petraeus on the Hill with his immediate staff to testify under oath as to CIA involvement. Then, let’s bring Panetta and his staff in to have their say.

    Last, get Dempsey in, followed by Donilon, Clapper, et al.

    Whoever left these brave individuals swingin’ in the wind should be publicly stripped of office on national television, painted down the spine with a yellow stripe and made to walk from the Capitol to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in the middle of the day.

    No mercy, no quarter.

  11. On November 1, 2012 at 5:26 am, egoist said:

    They (Obama, HRC…) blamed Americans for peddling guns to MX druglords.
    They (Obama, HRC…) blamed American for triggering attacks with a film.

    Whatever really happened, overwhelming paper trail data is required of the WH. Carl Segan said something like: extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

  12. On November 1, 2012 at 5:32 am, Kerry said:

    To say “that there wasn’t time before the fire fight was over to transport assets to Benghazi to assist” certainly conflicts with the ‘we didn’t have enough information Panetta-gab’. How is that any different from saying, “Well, what the hell. Everyone’s dead now, no explanations can make any difference now. Time to move on. Look! Shiny objects!!”

  13. On November 1, 2012 at 5:38 am, Kerry said:

    Hmm, my comment at AEI: “From what I can determine from talking with someone who has spoken directly with key general officers and others involved…” In my best Klingon roar, “I do not believe you! Name these people!! Whom did you talk with who talked with someone who spoke with someone?! I spoke with someone who knows you are a Ptak!! What is the key general officer’s name? When did you speak with him? Where? For how long? Did he have an obscure video…”

  14. On November 1, 2012 at 6:04 am, John W. said:

    “Decision makers in Washington appear to have been leaning forward …”

    Note the “lean forward.” That’s a phrase the Obama campaign, both formal and informal, has been pushing as part of their narrative. Know anyone else that uses it as tangline? Oh, right, MSNBC.

    Wolfowitz got played, big time.

  15. On November 1, 2012 at 7:01 am, Jayne I said:

    Lee Dodson gets it re who must be asked questions. Been wondering all along about these faceless, nameless survivors. Where are they now ?

    And does President Obama have no conscience prodding him? See the local reporter in Denver ask the President direct question re Benghazi and the President is speechless pretty much. How can the President keep saying that they are investigating when the question to him is what did YOU know, when, and what was YOUR response? Weird that he needs an investigation to answer questions about himself.

    How can the administration coverup be holding together so tightly? So many people have to know parts of what happened, yet no one motivated by honor to get the story out ? The survivors, the eight marines who were said to be there, General Ham’s staff, WH/CIA/DD staff members…?

    And how on earth can the MSM turn its collective back on the story, are they really just one giant organism with no individual viewpoints? I had thought that the corruption of the MSM held no more power to shock, but wow, so wrong. Not one MSM figure is a person of integrity and decency? Comic book characters. “You’re nothing, live with that”

  16. On November 1, 2012 at 7:13 am, Just Me said:

    It was the anniversary of 9-11 so if what Wolfowitz says is true and there were no assets at all-not even an airplane-to send as help, then that speaks even more to the incompetence of this president.

    Having nothing tells me this president is clueless. If there should be any day of the year where all military units should be on alert it is the anniversary of 9-11.

    The ‘there wasn’t anything close enough’ excuse just makes things look worse.

  17. On November 1, 2012 at 9:04 am, Herschel Smith said:

    Henry, thanks for the question. The Stars and Stripes article was written more than a year ago. Marine Force Recon has been there at least that long, and maybe longer (I’m guessing ever since there was such a thing as MARSOC).

    The point I’m making is that in spite of Force Recon being there, Delta being there, other assets, General Ham didn’t have access to a single operator or a single aircraft with which to respond.

    Prove it!

  18. On November 1, 2012 at 10:39 am, Tom Poole said:

    I was involved in a program back in the late 70’s, early 80’s which brought me into close contact with Wolfowitz. I learned then he was not honest and worthy of trust. Nothing has changed.

  19. On November 1, 2012 at 1:27 pm, Sando said:

    A source on Powerline is also unable to confirm the presence of an AC-130. He offers the theory that SEAL/CIA Woods knew there was no gunship but lases the mortar to get them to move buying him time and/or exposing themselves to fire. I was previously thinking there’s no way Woods would expose his position that way without aircraft overhead but this is a possible explanation.

  20. On November 1, 2012 at 2:31 pm, Šťoural said:

    To timeline
    1)CIF(EUCOM Combatant Commanders In-Extemis Force)=SF company 10th SFG(A)&CCT AFSOC&Seal platoon.Readiness 2hours
    2)Stuttgart(CIF base)-Benghazi 2060km
    3)Cruise speed C130J Hercules 643kph(Max.671kph)

    4)NAS Sigonella,Det P-3C Orion(Look Google Earth),exellent ISR,C3&CAS Aircraft platform(CAS only limited,missile AGM-65E Laser Maverick&AGM84E SLAM,GPS Guided missile)

  21. On November 1, 2012 at 2:52 pm, richard40 said:

    Wasn’t Gen Ham releived of his command? You dont releive people that completely agreed with your decision that no aid could be safely sent, as Panetta claims. You releive people who strongly disagree with your decision. I dont think Gen Ham will be willing to pasively sit by and back up this lie, and eventually congress will have him on the witness stand testifying about this.

  22. On November 2, 2012 at 8:58 am, TS Alfabet said:

    Sando said, “A source on Powerline is also unable to confirm the presence of an AC-130. He offers the theory that SEAL/CIA Woods knew there was no gunship but lases the mortar to get them to move buying him time and/or exposing themselves to fire. I was previously thinking there’s no way Woods would expose his position that way without aircraft overhead but this is a possible explanation.”

    Possible, I suppose, but the Fox News report indicated that not only did Woods lase the mortar team but he *also* requested the Spectre gunship to fire. This presumes the presence of the gunship unless we are willing to believe that Woods also thought that the Islamists were monitoring his comm channel and would be unnerved by his request. That seems far-fetched.

    It is far more plausible that Gen. Ham at AFRICOM– someone who had a reputation for aggressively taking charge of anti-terror operations throughout that very wide regional command– reacted to word of the attacks with intiative and vigor and immediately dispatched the air assets he had available (the two drones). It is impossible to believe that Ham did not have a Spectre gunship (or similar) available to him to put on station. He also likely had one or more SOF units ready to deploy once he got approval. That is where the breakdown occurred. It is completely plausible that Ham had the Spectre ready and waiting to fire when Woods called for it, but he had been relieved of command by WH orders at that point and the Spectre crew were told in no uncertain terms to stand down and ignore Woods’ request for supporting fire.

  23. On November 2, 2012 at 9:07 am, TS Alfabet said:

    The more I think about this the more obvious this becomes.

    Who really believes that the U.S. military could not marshal significant assets to respond to an attack on our consulate when it was alerted almost immediately to the attack and had several hours to bring forces to bear? It’s simply inconceivable in this age of communications and the deployment of resources in the region.

    There *must* have been ample assets available to respond to the attack. The only, plausible explanation is that the White House put a leash on those forces for whatever reason and was willing to immediately relieve the commanding officer of AFRICOM to make sure that those forces stayed on the leash.

  24. On November 2, 2012 at 9:23 am, Herschel Smith said:

    TSA, yes, that’s what I think too. Some of this is factually based, and some of this involves protracting what we know to what we don’t (with certainty). But I’m not capable of doing this alone. I need help from the readers to flesh this out.

  25. On November 7, 2012 at 3:38 am, D.B. said:

    We are focusing a lot on if this or that asset was available in this or that location.

    But more importantly, was there ANYTHING in the region with which to respond, in ANY WAY to this attack??

    An A10 Thunderbolt, fighter jet, Chinook, Osprey, C130 Hercules, troops at the ready, a guy with a slingshot, a catapult? Anything at all?

    It is impossible to believe that at a major military base such as Sigonella, there were no assets whatsoever that could have been brought into the fight.

    And for the conspiracy buffs, Obama didn’t order an AC-130 already circling the site not to fire. I’m not fond of him, but he’s not a deliberate murderer.

    Far more likely is he just tried to play it safe.

    Without perfect knowledge, he was not willing to order a direct response on a moments notice.

    And people died as a result of his failure to exercise his command.

    Not to mention that every terrorist in the world now thinks the US won’t do squat to protect our foreign personnel, which is going to lead to more attacks.

  26. On May 17, 2013 at 1:32 pm, Tom Ingle said:

    I agree, it is ludicrous to say no assets were available…like Korea, cooks clerks with M16s could have broken up the attack. Wolfowitz in a Colin Powellish comment expects to have everything in place before an attack/counterattack. The shadow of VN is very apparent in DOD. With the lack of aggressiveness in DOD, I can see State making poor decisions based upon wussie advcse.

  27. On August 2, 2013 at 1:19 pm, Mark said:

    Think link you cited as being proof that Force Recon Marines were in Sigonella during the Bengaszi attack is dated October 5, 2011. It says these Marines did not move into their Barracks until the week of October 5. However, I agree that even MPs transported by helicoptor could have done the job and their were probably other Americfan as well as NATO assets available.
    “Marines began moving into their barracks this week at a U.S. base in Sigonella, Italy”

    The link you cited.

  28. On June 12, 2014 at 10:57 pm, Mike said:

  29. On September 1, 2016 at 1:05 am, Sunshine Cortes said:

    my assistant needed to fill out AK DOH GEN 30 (06-3710) this month and discovered a website that hosts a searchable database . If others require AK DOH GEN 30 (06-3710) also , here’s a

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