Second-Guessing Benghazi (Cont.)

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The U.S. consulate aflame in Benghazi, Libya, Sept. 11, 2012.

Despite the challenges of Syria, National Security Agency leaks, sexual assaults in the ranks and the fiscal vise of sequestration, the death of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, last Sept. 11 continues to preoccupy some lawmakers. The terror attack killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, Glen Doherty, Sean Smith and Tyrone Woods.

The latest example took place Wednesday before the Senate Budget Committee, generally not viewed as a center of national-security thinking. Nonetheless, if every senator sees herself or himself as a President, he or she also can pretend to be chair(wo)man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

It’s the way that the lawmakers went after Army General Martin Dempsey, who actually holds that job, that is disconcerting. There’s a clear sense they don’t believe him, that he’s hiding something, somewhere.

Have to give Dempsey credit for not calling in artillery strikes during these two exchanges.

Round 1:

SENATOR RON JOHNSON (R-WI):  General Dempsey, I’d like to talk a little bit about Commander’s In-extremis Forces. It’s my understanding that these are units of 40 special ops individuals that are basically there for rapid response, rapid deployment. Is that correct?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah, it’s one of several capabilities like that.

SEN. JOHNSON: And we have one of those in Europe, C-110, it’s called, the EUCOM CIF.

GEN. DEMPSEY: Each combatant commander has one.

SEN. JOHNSON: OK. There was a report on April 30th filed by Adam Housley that the EUCOM CIF was not in Europe but actually deployed on a training exercise in Croatia. Is that correct?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Are you talking about last September?

SEN. JOHNSON: Yes, during Benghazi.

GEN. DEMPSEY: It was on a training mission in Bosnia, right.

SEN. JOHNSON: On the night of the terrorist attack in Benghazi —

GEN. DEMPSEY: That’s correct.

SEN. JOHNSON: — correct?

GEN. DEMPSEY: That’s correct.

SEN. JOHNSON: What is the time to deployment of those forces? What is their standing order?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Their response times are ratcheted up and down based on the threat. They can be anywhere from N-plus-1, notification-plus-one, which means they’re sitting on the tarmac, up through about N-plus-6, depending on the threat.

SEN. JOHNSON: Now, according to Adam Housley, through a whistleblower, that individual stated that force could have been in Benghazi 3 1/2 hours, four to six hours, something in that time frame. Is that correct? Were they at that state of readiness?

GEN. DEMPSEY: No, I would not agree to that timeline. The travel time alone would have been more than that. And that’s if they were sitting on the tarmac.

SEN. JOHNSON: Was the command of EUCOM CIF transferred during the Benghazi attack, from European command to AFRICOM?

GEN. DEMPSEY: There was a point at which the CIF was transitioned over to AFRICOM, yes, sir.

SEN. JOHNSON: At what point was that transferred?

GEN. DEMPSEY: It occurred, as I recall now, during the night of September 11th.

SEN. JOHNSON: And can you give mean any kind of time frame on that? Do you know exactly when it was done?

GEN. DEMPSEY: No, not from memory. I can certainly take that —

SEN. JOHNSON: I would certainly like to find that out.


SEN. JOHNSON: Was that unit ever deployed anywhere?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Anywhere after the Benghazi attack?

SEN. JOHNSON: During the Benghazi attack, during that 12(-hour) to 24-hour period, did they leave Croatia?

GEN. DEMPSEY: They were told to begin preparations to leave Croatia and to return to their normal operating base in Stuttgart.

SEN. JOHNSON: OK. So again, have you checked into specifically what their time-to-deploy orders were at that moment — (inaudible)?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Yes. It was not only for that particular element, but for fleet anti-terrorism support teams; for all of the various response forces, we do have that timeline available.

SEN. JOHNSON: OK. So — again, so what I want to know is, what was their standing-order time to deployment at the moment of the Benghazi attack. Was it T plus 1 or T plus 2? What was their standing order?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, given that they were on a training event, it was probably at N-plus 6. But let me take it for the record.

SEN. JOHNSON: OK. I appreciate that.

During our Foreign Relations Committee on Benghazi, a number of people made the comment that State Department simply didn’t have the funds to provide the security. Is it true the Defense Department was providing security in Benghazi?

GEN. DEMPSEY: There were six individuals under Department of Defense authority in Benghazi.

SEN. JOHNSON: And the State Department does not pay for that; correct?

GEN. DEMPSEY: That’s correct.

SEN. JOHNSON: Did you — did the State Department, did Secretary Clinton ever contact the Department of Defense asking for additional security because she was getting requests from individuals in Libya for additional security?

GEN. DEMPSEY: I don’t know if she contacted the department. I was not contacted.

SEN. JOHNSON: OK. Can you check that for me for the record?


SEN. JOHNSON: Had Secretary Clinton or somebody from the secretary — or the Department of State contacted the Defense Department, would have you provided security in Benghazi?

GEN. DEMPSEY: We routinely respond to Department of State requests for support.

SEN. JOHNSON: And what they were really requesting, the people on the ground there, was not particularly a large deployment, correct? They were talking maybe about 16 security individuals?

GEN. DEMPSEY: At one time we had 16 there, that’s correct.

SEN. JOHNSON: OK. In your opinion, had we had just a minimal force, armed force of trained defense military individuals in the compound in Benghazi, would have that attack ever occurred?

GEN. DEMPSEY: I have — I can’t speculate about that hypothetical because it — literally it’s hypothetical. I mean —

SEN. JOHNSON: Well, it is true that a minimum number of Special operations individuals repelled the attack when they came from the annex to the consulate. They basically repelled the attack, correct?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, it was from the consulate to the annex, but the individual —

SEN. JOHNSON: Well, first time was from the annex to the consulate, right?

GEN. DEMPSEY: The first event occurred at the consulate — (inaudible) —

SEN. JOHNSON: Right, and then we had — we had — we had, you know, special ops folks or, you know, contractors come from the annex to the consulate —

GEN. DEMPSEY: That’s correct.

SEN. JOHNSON: — to repel the attack.

GEN. DEMPSEY: To recover — that’s right. Well, to recover the individuals who had been attacked.

SEN. JOHNSON: So I think the assumption would be if we had maybe four-time — full — you know, 16, which means four people, full-time guards, at that consulate, probably that attack never would have occurred.

GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, if you’re asking me, would additional security forces have made a difference in any number of ways, the answer is yes, of course.

SEN. JOHNSON: OK. Well, thank you…

Round 2:

SENATOR KELLY AYOTTE (R-NH): I wanted to ask Chairman Dempsey, in follow-up to what Senator Johnson just asked you about the attack on the consulate in Benghazi, something that I’ve wanted to know an answer to, which is that on February 7th you testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee. And you were asked a question by Senator Graham. And he asked you whether General Ham had issued a stand-down order to the military personnel in Tripoli or elsewhere who were preparing to go to assist those in Benghazi.

Then we heard before the House Oversight Committee that Mr. Hicks, who was the former deputy chief of mission, said that Colonel Gibson, who was on the ground in Tripoli, did receive a stand-down order. And so, General Dempsey, I’ve not had an opportunity to follow-up with you based on the February 7th testimony. Mr. Hicks testified that he believed the stand-down order came from AFRICOM or Special Operations Command in Africa.

General Dempsey, can you help me understand who issued the stand- down order and what happened there, why the special forces that wanted to go with, I understand it — under Colonel Gibson in Tripoli — were told not to go and who gave them that order from there? They wanted to go and help in Benghazi on that night.

GEN. DEMPSEY: Yes, thanks, Senator. On — based on that testimony I went back and —

SEN. AYOTTE: I had a feeling you would, that’s why I wanted to —

GEN. DEMPSEY: Yes, of course. Yeah. And there were two different groups of — it was six people, not all working for the same command. Two of them were working with Joint Special Operations Command. They were co-located with another agency of government in Tripoli. And four were working under the direct line of authority of Special Operations Command Europe or AFRICOM — AFSOC. And it was the four you’re speaking about. The other two went.

The other four — by the time they contacted the command center in Stuttgart, they were told that the individuals in Benghazi were on their way back and that they would be better used at the Tripoli airport — because one of them was a medic — that they would be better used to receive the casualties coming back from Benghazi, and that if they had gone they would have simply passed each other in the air. And that’s the answer I received.


GEN. DEMPSEY: So they weren’t told to stand down. Stand down means don’t do anything. They were told to — that the mission they were asked to perform was not in Benghazi but was at Tripoli Airport.

SEN. AYOTTE: Can I ask you, General, they had requested to go though.

GEN. DEMPSEY: That’s correct.

SEN. AYOTTE: They asked to go to support the — what was happening in Benghazi from Tripoli, correct?

GEN. DEMPSEY: That is correct.

SEN. AYOTTE: And they were told, from what you’re saying, not to go because of the timing?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Because timing, and that they would be — they would contribute more by going to the Tripoli airport to meet the casualties upon return.

SEN. AYOTTE: I don’t know if you know the answer to this today, but if you don’t, can you get back to me on it? Can you tell me when they made the request and what the timing was of that request, when they were told to stay in Tripoli? I would appreciate a follow-up on that.

GEN. DEMPSEY: Yes, I will.

SEN. AYOTTE: Thank you very much.

This reminds Battleland of the debate that pretty much ended 20 years ago over whether any U.S. prisoners-of-war remained alive, held against their will,  in Vietnam in the two decades following the end of that war. If there were a smoking gun concerning American ineptness about that sad night in Benghazi — beyond the already-acknowledged ineptness — we would have learned about it by now. The trouble comes when you think you see, amid the fog of war, that smoking gun.