The Benghazi scandal just got much worse. I posted below that it appears that the decision to deny the requests for additional security in Benghazi made in the months prior to 9-11 was a political decision made at the Clinton / Obama level. Now Fox News has broken a story that, during the attack itself, one that lasted, on and off, over a period of seven hours, the consulate's multiple calls for assistance were refused by the 'chain of command' - that even though we had a drone on station providing real time intelligence and more than sufficient assets to provide a rapid and effective response. American lives were lost because of that it.
[Update: Bill Kristol, in a column linked at the bottom of this post, notes that the CIA has, in a denial made in response to the Fox News story below, "thrown Obama under the bus." Kristol makes the case that the decision to deny military support had to come directly from Obama.]
This from Fox News:
Fox News has learned from sources who were on the ground in Benghazi that an urgent request from the CIA annex for military back-up during the attack on the U.S. consulate and subsequent attack several hours later on the annex itself was denied by the CIA chain of command -- who also told the CIA operators twice to "stand down" rather than help the ambassador's team when shots were heard at approximately 9:40 p.m. in Benghazi on Sept. 11.
This part, referencing the "CIA chain of command," is unclear. Maybe the CIA station chief?
Former Navy SEAL Tyrone Woods was part of a small team who was at the CIA annex about a mile from the U.S. consulate where Ambassador Chris Stevens and his team came under attack. When he and others heard the shots fired, they informed their higher-ups at the annex to tell them what they were hearing and requested permission to go to the consulate and help out. They were told to "stand down," according to sources familiar with the exchange. Soon after, they were again told to "stand down."
Woods and at least two others ignored those orders and made their way to the consulate which at that point was on fire. Shots were exchanged. The rescue team from the CIA annex evacuated those who remained at the consulate and Sean Smith, who had been killed in the initial attack. They could not find the ambassador and returned to the CIA annex at about midnight.
At that point, they called again for military support and help because they were taking fire at the CIA safe house, or annex. The request was denied. . . .
Although Fox uses the word "again," this is the first mention of a request for outside military support. What was the situation report, who did it go to, who had operational control of responsive assets, were they alerted, and who ultimately denied the request?
Moreover, the people on the ground in Benghazi were not operating in a vacuum. Everyone up the chain of command to Obama, would have been alerted of the attack soon after it began. Sec. of Def. Panetta, CIA Chief Petraeus, and Gen. Ham of the U.S. Africa Commmand (AFRICOM) would not have been just standing around waiting for reports. They would be conducting their own analysis of what the situation required. There would be contingency plans in place that would have been - and clearly were - activated. Special ops units were immediately deployed to Italy awaiting deployment to Libya - orders that never came.
Update 3: There is a rumor that Gen. Ham was in the midst of violating an order from Panetta and deploying his Spec Ops resources to Benghazi when he was stopped by his second in command who, so the story goes, informed Gen. Ham that he was immediately relieved of his command by Panetta. Is this true?
There is at least some evidence that would lend credence to the rumor. The prior commander of AFRICOM, Gen. Ward, served 3 1/2 years in that position. Sec. of Def. Panetta just announced seven days ago that Gen. David Rodriguez had been tapped as the new AFRICOM commander. Gen. Ham had only served in his position as AFRICOM Commander for 1 1/2 years. This would seem a very early exit indeed. The announcement gave no indication of what, if any, would be Gen. Ham's follow on assignment.
Further, per Protein Wisdom:
As I was typing this I heard John Bolton on Greta say that there are conflicting reports of General Ham’s comments on this tragedy and why a rapid response unit was not deployed. Bolton says someone needs to find out what Ham was saying on 9/11/12.
Indeed they do. To continue with the Fox News story:
There were no communications problems at the annex, according those present at the compound. The team was in constant radio contact with their headquarters. In fact, at least one member of the team was on the roof of the annex manning a heavy machine gun when mortars were fired at the CIA compound. The security officer had a laser on the target that was firing and repeatedly requested back-up support from a Spectre gunship, which is commonly used by U.S. Special Operations forces to provide support to Special Operations teams on the ground involved in intense firefights. The fighting at the CIA annex went on for more than four hours -- enough time for any planes based in Sigonella Air base, just 480 miles away, to arrive. Fox News has also learned that two separate Tier One Special operations forces were told to wait, among them Delta Force operators.
A Special Operations team, or CIF which stands for Commanders in Extremis Force, operating in Central Europe had been moved to Sigonella, Italy, but they were never told to deploy. In fact, a Pentagon official says there were never any requests to deploy assets from outside the country.
That a "pentagon official" would mention that as an excuse is utterly ridiculous. Whether or not a request for additional military support was communicated to the Pentagon is virtually meaningless. These are professionals paid to analyze and respond to a situation, not to wait with their thumbs up their collective asses to be told what to do by the people on the ground - people who may or may not even be aware of what assets are available.
A second force that specializes in counterterrorism rescues was on hand at Sigonella, according to senior military and intelligence sources. According to those sources, they could have flown to Benghazi in less than two hours. They were the same distance to Benghazi as those that were sent from Tripoli. Spectre gunships are commonly used by the Special Operations community to provide close air support.
According to sources on the ground during the attack, the special operator on the roof of the CIA annex had visual contact and a laser pointing at the Libyan mortar team that was targeting the CIA annex. The operators were calling in coordinates of where the Libyan forces were firing from.
If you have a target 'painted' with a laser, that means that our laser guided munitions can be fired from the air with pin point accuracy. We had weapons platforms within one to two hours of the target. An AC130 Spectre gunship would have ended that threat faster than the blink of an eye and with mimimal collateral damage. That none of these assets were launched is just utterly inexplicable.
Update 2: From a Special Ops commenter at Blackfive:
One of the former SEALs was actively painting the target. That means that Specter WAS ON STATION! Probably an AC130U. A ground laser designator is not a briefing pointer laser. You do not "paint" a target until the weapons system/designator is synched; which means that the AC130 was on station.
Only two places could have called off the attack at that point; the WH situation command (based on POTUS direction) or AFRICOM commander based on information directly from the target area.
If the AC130 never left Sigonella (as Penetta says) that means that the Predator that was filming the whole thing was armed.
If that SEAL was actively "painting" a target; something was on station to engage! And the decision to stand down goes directly to POTUS.
Continuing with the Fox News story:
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters at the Pentagon on Thursday that there was not a clear enough picture of what was occurring on the ground in Benghazi to send help.
"There's a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking going on here," Panetta said Thursday. "But the basic principle here ... is that you don't deploy forces into harm's way without knowing what's going on."
That is pure, unadulterated, absolute and utter bullshit. Panetta needs to be removed from office immediately. There were two military drones on station providing real time visual intelligence - that in addition to continuous ground reports. The most dangerous enemy asset was laser designated, for God's sake. Bottom line, Panetta had better real time intelligence than 99.99% of all military commanders in history have ever had when deploying troops. There is a pretty clear line between criticizing unconscionable operational failure and "monday morning quarterbacking." This failure to act was the former, it was was pure risk aversion that got our people killed.
U.S. officials argue that there was a period of several hours when the fighting stopped before the mortars were fired at the annex, leading officials to believe the attack was over.
Wow. Again, as an excuse, that one doesn't even begin to cut it. Our people in Benghazi had just suffered an attack from a sizable and organized militia group, our forces had taken casualties, and the Ambassador himself was MIA. So what, the fighting had stopped, so just let the survivors hang out there in their precarious position? You would want to immediately send security to stabilize the situation and protect the survivors just in case THE FIGHTING STARTED AGAIN!!!!!! Unbelievable.
Fox News has learned that there were two military surveillance drones redirected to Benghazi shortly after the attack on the consulate began. They were already in the vicinity. The second surveillance craft was sent to relieve the first drone, perhaps due to fuel issues. Both were capable of sending real time visuals back to U.S. officials in Washington, D.C. Any U.S. official or agency with the proper clearance, including the White House Situation Room, State Department, CIA, Pentagon and others, could call up that video in real time on their computers.
Tyrone Woods was later joined at the scene by fellow former Navy SEAL Glen Doherty, who was sent in from Tripoli as part of a Global Response Staff or GRS that provides security to CIA case officers and provides countersurveillance and surveillance protection. They were killed by a mortar shell at 4 a.m. Libyan time, nearly seven hours after the attack on the consulate began -- a window that represented more than enough time for the U.S. military to send back-up from nearby bases in Europe, according to sources familiar with Special Operations. Four mortars were fired at the annex. The first one struck outside the annex. Three more hit the annex.
A motorcade of dozens of Libyan vehicles, some mounted with 50 caliber machine guns, belonging to the February 17th Brigades, a Libyan militia which is friendly to the U.S., finally showed up at the CIA annex at approximately 3 a.m. An American Quick Reaction Force sent from Tripoli had arrived at the Benghazi airport at 2 a.m. (four hours after the initial attack on the consulate) and was delayed for 45 minutes at the airport because they could not at first get transportation, allegedly due to confusion among Libyan militias who were supposed to escort them to the annex, according to Benghazi sources.
The American special operators, Woods, Doherty and at least two others were part of the Global Response Staff, a CIA element, based at the CIA annex and were protecting CIA operators who were part of a mission to track and repurchase arms in Benghazi that had proliferated in the wake of Muammar Qaddafi's fall. Part of their mission was to find the more than 20,000 missing MANPADS, or shoulder-held missiles capable of bringing down a commercial aircraft. According to a source on the ground at the time of the attack, the team inside the CIA annex had captured three Libyan attackers and was forced to hand them over to the Libyans. U.S. officials do not know what happened to those three attackers and whether they were released by the Libyan forces. . . .
Every single aspect of the Benghazi debacle stinks of scandal and failure. Each new revelation just compounds this travesty. The truth needs to be made known and people held accountable. I have no illusions that this will happen before Nov. 6, but this is one that should not and cannot be swept under the rug.
Update: The CIA has responded with a carefully worded statement, not denying that requests for more assistance were made during the firefight, but only that "[n]o one at any level in the CIA told anybody not to help those in need." As Bill Kristol, writing at the Weekly Standard, describes this statement, CIA Chief Gen. Petraeus just threw Obama under the bus. As Kristol explains the implications:
So who in the government did tell “anybody” not to help those in need? Someone decided not to send in military assets to help those Agency operators. Would the secretary of defense make such a decision on his own? No.
It would have been a presidential decision. There was presumably a rationale for such a decision. What was it? When and why—and based on whose counsel obtained in what meetings or conversations—did President Obama decide against sending in military assets to help the Americans in need?
It would seem that all roads in this scandal lead to the Oval Office.