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Diplomat: Special Forces Team Told Not To Go To Benghazi During Attack

A deputy to the late Ambassador Chris Stevens is reportedly saying that a special forces team in Tripoli was prevented from deploying to Benghazi when the consulate there was being attacked last September:

The deputy of slain U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens has told congressional investigators that a team of Special Forces prepared to fly from Tripoli to Benghazi during the Sept. 11, 2012 attacks was forbidden from doing so by U.S. Special Operations Command South Africa.

The account from Gregory Hicks is in stark contrast to assertions from the Obama administration, which insisted that nobody was ever told to stand down and that all available resources were utilized. Hicks gave private testimony to congressional investigators last month in advance of his upcoming appearance at a congressional hearing Wednesday.

According to excerpts released Monday, Hicks told investigators that SOCAFRICA commander Lt. Col. Gibson and his team were on their way to board a C-130 from Tripoli for Benghazi prior to an attack on a second U.S. compound “when [Col. Gibson] got a phone call from SOCAFRICA which said, ‘you can’t go now, you don’t have the authority to go now.’ And so they missed the flight … They were told not to board the flight, so they missed it.”

No assistance arrived from the U.S. military outside of Libya during the hours that Americans were under attack or trapped inside compounds by hostile forces armed with rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and AK-47 rifles.

Hicks told congressional investigators that if the U.S. had quickly sent a military aircraft over Benghazi, it might have saved American lives. The U.S. Souda Bay Naval Base is an hour’s flight from Libya.

“I believe if we had been able to scramble a fighter or aircraft or two over Benghazi as quickly as possible after the attack commenced, I believe there would not have been a mortar attack on the annex in the morning because I believe the Libyans would have split. They would have been scared to death that we would have gotten a laser on them and killed them,” Hicks testified. Two Americans died in the morning mortar attack.

Hicks’s testimony would seem to contrast with official Administration accounts of what transpired in Benghazi and what was done, or could have been done, to respond to the attack. While I don’t ascribe to the idea that this rises to the level of a scandal, it certainly does call the Obama Administration’s decision making process on that day into question.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. JWH says:

    I wish the GOP had spent the past six months focused on this rather than the stupid talking points. Yes, they mentioned it a couple times, but it all got lost in the shuffle because somebody apparently decided the talking points’ authorship was more important than this kind of substantive matter.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 10

  2. michael reynolds says:

    @JWH:

    They “mentioned” it incessantly. But no one gave a damn, because it doesn’t actually matter. It’s a minor kerfuffle associated with an essentially irrelevant tragedy. It has no legs. It will not save the GOP. It would not have saved Mitt Romney. Nor will it save whatever poor fool goes up against Hillary in four years.

    But I certainly do hope the GOP keeps obsessing. People love the way the GOP focuses like a laser on partisan crap that has nothing to do with anything.

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  3. legion says:

    According to excerpts released Monday, Hicks told investigators that SOCAFRICA commander Lt. Col. Gibson and his team were on their way to board a C-130 from Tripoli for Benghazi prior to an attack on a second U.S. compound “when [Col. Gibson] got a phone call from SOCAFRICA which said, ‘you can’t go now, you don’t have the authority to go now.’

    I’m curious – how exactly would Hicks, a State Department diplomat, have access to details of a phone call from SOCAFRICA/CC to a field commander? If people are actually interested in determining whether or not military forces could have been sent (and what impact those forces could have had), wouldn’t it be more definitive to pull in testimony from the actual military people themselves rather than this kind of hearsay?

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  4. Septimius says:

    @michael reynolds:

    So, a terrorist attack on a U.S. consulate and the death of 4 Americans would only matter to you if it could possibly help Republicans/hurt Democrats.

    You’re a wonderful human being.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 4 Thumb down 17

  5. michael reynolds says:

    @Septimius:

    I think you missed the point there dude. I’m saying that as an event, as a historical incident, it is of almost no significance.

    For point of reference, let’s say World War 2 was a 10 out of 10. The entire Libyan intervnetion was maybe barely a 1 out of 10, but more like a .5.. This incident was a .01 out of 10. No one cares because aside from the pain caused to the families, it has no larger significance. People get that, which is why it fails as a political issue.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 15 Thumb down 5

  6. stonetools says:

    “I believe if we had been able to scramble a fighter or aircraft or two over Benghazi as quickly as possible after the attack commenced, I believe there would not have been a mortar attack on the annex in the morning because I believe the Libyans would have split. They would have been scared to death that we would have gotten a laser on them and killed them,” Hicks testified.

    Yeah, and if alien flying saucers had landed in Benghazi, that might have scared off the militants, too.
    Contrary to popular belief, Special Ops fighters aren’t invincible superhuman warriors who always succeed whatever the circumstances(Witness Somalia, Iranian hostage rescue). Tossing a team into the middle of a night time firefight with no advance preparation sounds like a recipe for a clusterf*ck. I’m glad the Obama Administration didn’t do it.

    While I don’t ascribe to the idea that this rises to the level of a scandal, it certainly does call the Obama Administration’s decision making process on that day into question.

    Or maybe it calls into question the right wing’s (and your) unhealthy obsession with this incident.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 2

  7. JKB says:

    @stonetools: (Witness Somalia, Iranian hostage rescue)

    Funny you should bring those up. Somalia was disaster first because they became predictable but also because the Army was prohibited from bringing armored personnel carriers and tanks into the country by a DEMOCRAT presidential administration. The Iranian hostage rescue did have some accidents but most are traced back the micro-management by a DEMOCRAT presidential administration.

    So I suppose it was wise not to send in Special Ops given we have yet another incompetent DEMOCRAT presidential administration who seek optics over capability….

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 3 Thumb down 17

  8. legion says:

    @JKB: Wow. I’d like to hear you sound off with that BS in a bar outside Ft Bragg…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  9. stonetools says:

    @JKB:

    Somalia was disaster first because they became predictable but also because the Army was prohibited from bringing armored personnel carriers and tanks into the country by a DEMOCRAT presidential administration

    Er, the Somalia operation began during the administration of George Herbert Walker Bush, a Republican IIRC.
    I await your analysis, with links, of how “micro-management by a Democratic administration” led to the crashing of a helicopter during the Iranian rescue attempt. A better argument would have been that the rescue shouldn’t have been attempted, since the odds of things going wrong was too great-which is the exact same argument against inserting a Special Ops team with no prep into the Benghazi situation.
    Anyway, if we are keeping partisan score, I’ll see your Benghazi incident and raise you one Iraq War. Now that’s an undoubted foreign policy debacle for you.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 2

  10. reid says:

    @JKB: Anything interesting you may have to say is pretty much rendered null by your idiotic use of the term “DEMOCRAT” as an adjective. It’s a strong hint that you’re a partisan nutter. Of course, by now we already know you are….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 2

  11. @stonetools: Remember, it was okay to use unarmored HMMWVs in Iraq which cost the lives of hundreds of American soldiers, but OMG LOOK AT THEIR USAGE IN SOMALIA!1!! IMPEACH CLINTON!11!!

    In other words, IOIYAR.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  12. Jeremy R says:

    @legion:

    I’m guessing he doesn’t. The response to the attack was swift, with the Tripoli embassy sending a private aircraft with a seven person team, within hours, and the drone arrived overhead around the same time. If it’s accurate AFRICOM delayed their flying out by 1/2-an-hour, or an hour, or whatever I’d imagine it was because they getting clearance from the Libyan gov’t. From the ARB report:

    Upon notification of the attack from the TDY RSO around 2145 local, Embassy Tripoli set up a command center and notified Washington. About 2150 local, the DCM was able to reach Ambassador Stevens, who briefly reported that the SMC was under attack before the call cut off. The Embassy notified Benina Airbase in Benghazi of a potential need for logistic support and aircraft for extraction and received full cooperation. The DCM contacted the Libyan President and Prime Minister’s offices to urge them to mobilize a rescue effort, and kept Washington apprised of post’s efforts. The Embassy also reached out to Libyan
    Air Force and Armed Forces contacts, February 17 leadership, and UN and third country embassies, among others. Within hours, Embassy Tripoli chartered a private airplane and deployed a seven-person security team, which included two U.S. military personnel, to Benghazi.

    At the direction of the U.S. military’s Africa Command (AFRICOM), DoD moved a remotely piloted, unarmed surveillance aircraft which arrived over the SMC shortly before the DS team departed. A second remotely piloted, unarmed surveillance aircraft relieved the first, and monitored the eventual evacuation of personnel from the Annex to Benghazi airport later on the morning of September 12.

    @Doug:

    While I don’t ascribe to the idea that this rises to the level of a scandal, it certainly does call the Obama Administration’s decision making process on that day into question.

    How exactly? What specific decision made by the Obama admin are you referencing here?

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  13. michael reynolds says:

    @JKB:

    241 Marines killed in Bierut Lebanon. They had been ordered not to load their weapons.

    Under which administration? Ronald Reagan.

    After the bombing, Reagan bugged out. Turned tail and ran away. Then gave weapons to the Iranians who almost certainly pulled the trigger on those Marines.

    You pitiful, dishonest, partisan hack.

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  14. Tyrell says:

    Where is the investigation at now? It is time that those responsible were arrested and tried for murder.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 8

  15. anjin-san says:

    Hey Doug, did you hear that the jobs report was good, but not good enough?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  16. anjin-san says:

    @ Tyrell

    It is time that those responsible were arrested and tried for murder.

    You could always go to Libya and hunt ‘em down yourself, stud.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 1

  17. Mikey says:

    @JKB:

    The Iranian hostage rescue did have some accidents but most are traced back the micro-management by a DEMOCRAT presidential administration.

    I’m no fan of Jimmy Carter, but the above is just wrong. The causes of the disaster at Desert One and the consequent failure of Eagle Claw did not spring from administration micromanagement.

    There were many factors, but they all come down to one thing: at the time there was no JSOC. There were four branches of the service, each with its own separate command structures, operating procedures, equipment, interests, and egos. The lack of a common operational framework and little time to train together for what was an insanely challenging mission meant there was no latitude at all for any problem, and if there’s anything my time in special operations taught me, it’s that Murphy is frickin’ EVERYWHERE during those things.

    JSOC was created out of the failure of Eagle Claw to provide a common operational framework, consistent and constant interservice training, and a unified command structure. And even with all that, we still had the disaster at Mogadishu.

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  18. mantis says:

    @Tyrell:

    It is time that those responsible were arrested and tried for murder.

    Oh, Tyrell says it’s time! Get on it boys! How hard can it be to “arrest and try” some unknown terrorists in a very fragile Islamic state–with neighbor states in even poorer shape–that is racked by factional fighting by a wide variety of groups? Tyrell’s watched Law and Order and those guys wrap up their cases in less than an hour! What’s taking you so long?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 1

  19. anjin-san says:

    @ Stonetools

    I’ll see your Benghazi incident and raise you one Iraq War.

    4K+ American dead under a Republican President is part of the cost of doing business. 4 American dead under a Democratic President is one of the greatest scandals in the history of the nation.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 1

  20. anjin-san says:

    Under which administration? Ronald Reagan.

    And of course we all remember the demands from the right for a full investigation, resignations, and prosecutions after 3000 Americans were slaughtered in the heart of NYC on 9.11, under another Republican President.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 1

  21. michael reynolds says:

    @Tyrell:

    Sure. Right after we arrest and try George W. Bush and Don Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney for committing torture.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1

  22. Jeremy R says:

    On the “missed” flight and the flying aircraft overhead (there was a drone overhead):

    http://thelead.blogs.cnn.com/2013/05/06/former-deputy-chief-of-mission-in-libya-u-s-military-assets-were-told-to-stand-down/

    Hicks recalled asking Phillips, “Is there anything coming?”

    Phillips replied “that the nearest fighter planes were Aviano” – Aviano Air Base, in Italy – “that he had been told that it would take 2 to 3 hours to get them airborne, but that there were no tanker assets near enough to support a flight from Aviano,” Hicks recalled.

    The C-130 left between 6 and 6:30 a.m., so the four Special Forces troops would not have arrived in time to fend off the 5:15 a.m. attack on the CIA annex in Benghazi.

    Sounds like Hick’s theories about what could have helped aren’t supported by very person who would have lead the team on that C-130 flight.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  23. Jeremy R says:

    Foreign Policy has a special operations team leader’s analysis of another of Fox’s recent Benghazi rescue theories, which suffers from some of the same issues as Hicks’ ideas:

    http://ricks.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2013/05/02/benghazi_ii_a_military_analysis_of_the_fox_mystery_mans_fantasy_rescue_plan

    Wonkette summed it up quite well as: Fox News ‘Expert’ Outlines Benghazi Rescue Plan That Would Have Worked Great Except For The Time Travel Part

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  24. Rafer Janders says:

    Again, Doug, when you write “While I don’t ascribe to the idea that this rises to the level of a scandal, it certainly does call the Obama Administration’s decision making process on that day into question”, exactly which decisions have you concerned? Could you be specific and cite exactly which part of the process you think was faulty?

    Because if you can’t, you’re just blowing smoke in order to justify your sad and fruitless obsession with this non-scandal.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  25. Jeremy R says:

    Actually, looking at the transcript from the House GOP’s questioning of Hicks, this mainly seems to be an issue of the House Republicans asking Hicks to speculate on various scenarios, even when they were logistically impossible:

    Q: But do you think, you know, if an F-15, if the military had allowed a jet to go fly over, that it might have prevented [the second attack]?

    A: Yeah, and if we had gotten clearance from the Libyan military for an American plane to fly over Libyan airspace. …

    Q : The theory being, the folks on the ground that are doing these — committing these terrorist attacks look up, see a heavy duty airplane above, and decide to hightail it?

    A: I believe that if — I believe if we had been able to scramble a fighter or aircraft or two over Benghazi as quickly as possible after the attack commenced, I believe there would not have been a mortar attack on the annex in the morning because I believe the Libyans would have split. …

    Q: I just wanted to ask, you mentioned permission from the Libyans. Why is that important? What did you mean by that?

    A: Well, it’s their country. And for an American military aircraft to fly over their country, we have to have permission from them to do so.

    Q: So you had mentioned that the first team from Tripoli to Benghazi arrived at 1:15?

    A: Right.

    Q: And was there a second team that was organized? Could you tell us about the second team?

    A: Right. The second team — the Defense Attache worked assiduously all night long to try to get the Libyan military to respond in some way. Early in the morning — sorry, after we were formally notified by the Prime Minister, who called me, that Chris had passed, the Libyan military agreed to fly their C-130 to Benghazi and carry additional personnel to Benghazi as reinforcements. Because we at that time — at that time, the third attack, the mortar attack at 5:15, had not yet occurred, if I remember correctly.

    Q: So what time did the second rescue team ??

    A: Well, again, they flew — I think that flight took off sometime between 6:00 and 6:30 a.m.

    Q: Now, did any of the Special Forces folks, were they planning at any time to travel on that second aircraft?

    A: On the second, on the C-130? Yes. We fully intended for those guys to go …

    It sounds like two rescue teams did in fact head out, and the the second C-130 one just didn’t include the special ops guys, who wouldn’t have been there in time to do anything anyway (as the final attack occurred an hour before they even would have taken off). It’s impressive how well the House GOP has spun everyone on all this though.

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  26. bill says:

    most of this was “known” back then, just couldn’t be “confirmed”. the “omg, an embassy in muslimland under attack on 9/11- must have been that crappy anti-mohammed film on youtube” was hilarious, albeit lame. anyhow, it’s just a footnote in history and the admin will not be taking it to task, nor the mainstream media.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  27. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @stonetools: Er, the Somalia operation began during the administration of George Herbert Walker Bush, a Republican IIRC.

    Under Bush, the Somalia operation was to secure the port and distribute food. Period. Clinton expanded it into nation-building and fighting the bad guys, then denied the troops the weapons they requested.

    Kind of like Fast & Furious. Bush II tried something simpler, saw it failing, and pulled the plug. Then under Obama, they tried it again, but pulled out even the basic safety protocols that had been tried — and found inadequate. And when that one blew up, they did the same thing — pretend that it started under a President Bush, and wasn’t really the Democratic president’s responsibility. And as long as no one looks too carefully at the reality, it just might work.

    For example, Bush ordered in the troops on December 5, 1992, then left office on January 20, 1993, when Clinton came into office. It was under Clinton that “mission creep” set in, and in October, US forces were ordered to capture two of Aidid’s top people. The Somalis fought back, and Blackhawk Down happened.

    Besides, I agree — this is no big deal. After all, look at Watergate — Nixon didn’t know about the break-in before, so what’s the big deal there? The old line about “it’s not the crime, it’s the coverup” is obsolete, right?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 5

  28. Anderson says:

    Fog of war. That is all.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  29. legion says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    Bush ordered in the troops on December 5, 1992, then left office on January 20, 1993, when Clinton came into office.

    Which means Clinton inherited an operation that had not even begun to mature or understand the actual situation on the ground when he became CinC, and then had to adjust it to what was actually going on in Somalia.

    Also,

    Besides, I agree — this is no big deal. After all, look at Watergate — Nixon didn’t know about the break-in before, so what’s the big deal there? The old line about “it’s not the crime, it’s the coverup” is obsolete, right?

    There’s been no coverup on Benghazi, and there wasn’t a coverup in Somalia either. You wingnuts seem obsessed with the idea that a President sits in the Oval Office all day, making every minute decision about what every person in the gov’t does on a daily basis, which is not only wrong, and impossible, but frankly amazing considering your last President – GW Bush – didn’t have the brain power to direct his own body to swallow a pretzel, let alone decide which individual vehicles out to go in a military shipment to Africa.

    Request for armored reinforcements denied
    In a decision that is later highly criticized, US Defense Secretary Les Aspin denies requests from General Montgomery for armored reinforcements, despite support for Montgomery’s request from General Colin Powell. Aspin says that he did not want to create the appearance that the US was increasing forces in Somalia at a time when they were trying to reduce military presence. He later concedes,”Had I known at the time what I knew after the events of Sunday, [October 3]. I would have made a very different decision.” In December, he is forced to resign.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  30. mantis says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    The old line about “it’s not the crime, it’s the coverup” is obsolete, right?

    You can repeat the word coverup over and over again like a annoying child, but that doesn’t change the fact that nothing has actually been shown to have been covered up.

    Wingnut: “It’s not the crime, it’s the coverup!”
    Normal human being: “What crime? What coverup?”
    Wingnut: “Der, umm, it’s not the crime, it’s the coverup! Impeach!”
    Normal human being: “Please go away.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  31. matt bernius says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    The old line about “it’s not the crime, it’s the coverup” is obsolete, right?

    Ok, put up sir… where is the cover-up? It’s pretty clear to point to the *illegal* cover-up of *illegal* action in Watergate. Where is the cover up — *legal* or *illegal* here?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  32. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @matt bernius: Sigh… the coverup is spelled out quite clearly here. In State Department e-mails, we see that the Obama administration knew, within 24 hours of the attack, that it was terrorism and not some spontaneous riot. However, they instead created and promulgated some story about Muslims upset over a stupid YouTube video (the maker of which is still in jail) instead.

    The reason? I’m sure that it had NOTHING to do with acknowledging that Al Qaeda had pulled off its most successful attack against the US since the first 9/11 and assassinated a US ambassador, the first such instance in about 40 years, especially since Obama was still bragging about having gotten Bin Laden. And it certainly had NOTHING to do with the election less than 2 months away.

    Terrorist attacks needed to not be terrorist attacks so Obama could keep on bragging. The Fort Hood shooting became “workplace violence.” The underwear bomber was laughed at, hoping no one would notice that he wasn’t stopped, he failed due to his own incompetence. And the Benghazi attack needed to be yet another instance of Muslims rioting instead of a well-planned and well-executed attack.

    No, there was no “crime” here. But that’s how the saying goes — “it’s not the crime, it’s the coverup.” Meaning, it’s usually not the initial action that causes all the problems, it’s the attempt to conceal the truth over those initial actions.

    The Obama administration failed to detect the attack in advance, dawdled over sending in aid, and then attempted to conceal the truth of the whole incident. The first is excusable; the other two not so much.

    Unless, of course, you’re so far in the tank for Obama that you can’t admit that his administration totally screwed the pooch here. In that case, it’s all just partisan politics and Fox News talking points, and you can keep on self-deluding.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  33. mantis says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    they instead created and promulgated some story about Muslims upset over a stupid YouTube video

    They created the protests over the video that happened all over the region the same week as the attack? Wow, they are devious! Please tell us more about how they did that.

    The rest of your post is just idiotically asserting that the administration covered up the fact that this was a terrorist attack. They didn’t, and you know it. You are a liar.

    The Obama administration failed to detect the attack in advance,

    Are you claiming they should have known in advance? Do you have some knowledge that suggests they could have?

    dawdled over sending in aid,

    You are a liar.

    and then attempted to conceal the truth of the whole incident.

    You are a liar.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

  34. legion says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    In State Department e-mails, we see that the Obama administration knew, within 24 hours of the attack, that it was terrorism and not some spontaneous riot.

    As ever, you see one sentence of fact and write a whole book of fantasy. The State Dept believed it was terrorism, but that was contradicted by CIA assessments at the same time. Just because _one_ of the reports about the attack was eventually shown to be correct does not mean it was _known at the time_ to be correct and deliberately ignored. We went through _exactly_ this same conversation back in October when GOP dirtbags were actively accusing the President of “watching Americans die” on some sort of mythical situation-room board and cackling gleefully about it. It’s just as dishonest, cowardly, and despicable when you say it as it was when Senators said it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  35. Paul Strauss says:

    Doesn’t rise to the level of scandal? Look, this isn’t about the decision not to go. That may, or may not have been a good decision. The problem the Obama administration has is that they have a top diplomat contradicting statements made by the Commander In Chief. This is not something career diplomats do lightly. Obama said, “…no one was ordered to stand down”. That is apparently not true. Then you have the issue of Hillary’s testimony before Congress. It doesn’t rise to the level of scandal that the Secretary of State committed perjury? Gimme a break.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  36. pylon says:

    Since the story has been completely debunked, is Doug going to post anything covering that?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0