November 3, 2012 in Nation/World

Pentagon gives account of its Libya response

Troops dispatched from U.S., Europe after consulate attack
Lolita C. Baldor Associated Press
 

WASHINGTON – The Pentagon provided more details Friday of the military response to the assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, as questions continue to swirl ahead of the presidential election about the government’s response to the attack, detailing the troops that were dispatched to the region, even though most arrived after the fighting was over.

Although two teams of special operations forces were deployed from central Europe and the United States, the attack, which began after 9 p.m. local time and ended by about 6 a.m., was over before they arrived at Sigonella Naval Air Station in Sicily, Italy, across the Mediterranean from Libya.

Pentagon press secretary George Little said that after the attack began, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta quickly met with his senior military advisers, including the top U.S. commander for Africa Command who was in Washington for meetings. Little said that within a few hours Panetta had ordered units to move to Libya.

“The entire U.S. government was operating from a cold start,” Little said.

He said the military units were prepared to respond to any number of contingencies, including a potential hostage situation.

The military also immediately moved an unarmed Predator surveillance drone to Benghazi airspace to provide real-time intelligence on the situation for the CIA officers on the ground who were fighting the militants.

The Pentagon comments came a day after senior U.S. intelligence officials detailed the CIA’s rescue efforts, striking back at allegations they failed to respond quickly or efficiently against the deadly attack, which killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

Two of those Americans were ex-Navy SEALs Tyrone Woods and Glenn Doherty, who initially were identified publicly as State Department contractors. But on Thursday, the intelligence officials said they were CIA contractors. Previously the agency had asked news organizations to avoid linking the men to the CIA because the officials claimed that doing so would endanger the lives of other security contractors.

U.S. officials are using the details to rebut some news reports that said the CIA told its personnel to “stand down” rather than go to the consulate to help repel the attackers. Fox News reported that when CIA officers at the annex called higher-ups to tell them the consulate was under fire, they were twice told to “stand down.” The CIA publicly denied the report, laying out a timeline that showed CIA security officers left their annex and headed to the consulate less than 25 minutes after receiving the first call for help.

The consulate attack has become a political issue in Washington, with Republicans questioning the security at the consulate, the intelligence on militant groups in North Africa and the Obama administration’s response in the days after the attack. Republicans also have questioned whether enough military and other support was requested and received.

The intelligence officials told reporters Thursday that when the CIA annex received a call about the assault, about a half dozen members of a CIA security team tried to get heavy weapons and other assistance from the Libyans. But when the Libyans failed to respond, the security team, which routinely carries small arms, went ahead with the rescue attempt. At no point was the team told to wait, the officials said.

Instead, they said the often outmanned and outgunned team members made all the key decisions on the ground, with no second-guessing from senior officials monitoring the situation from afar.

On Thursday, intelligence officials said they had early information that the attackers had ties to al-Qaida-linked groups but did not make it public immediately because it was based on classified intelligence. They said the early public comments about the attack and its genesis were cautious and limited, as they routinely are in such incidents.

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